Fava Bean Pesto Pizza

This springtime pizza combines the tender green pea flavor of fava beans with parmesan and smooth, velvety fontina cheese. For a garden-fresh touch, add a handful of fresh fava leaves and flowers after the pizza cools. Use all the pesto for a pizza that looks like the first (above, uncut) or save some for pasta or risotto. A pizza with less pesto will look a bit more like the above images of the cut pizza. 

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About Fava Beans

If you have space to grow them, fava beans make a great winter cover crop. They infuse the soil with nitrogen and have lovely little white flowers that are edible, along with the leaves. Like the early season beans, both the leaves and flowers have a wonderful fresh pea flavor. If you lack the space or inclination to grow them yourself, you can find these beans in many markets (at least in California) come March or April. 

In the photo above, the fava plants in the background are most notable to the left and just behind the poppies. In the foreground, a harvest of fava beans. 

The beans do take some time to shell, so it's ideal if you can get someone to help. Early in the season, when the bean is more pea-like, you can get away with simply removing the beans from the pod. Later in the season, come May or so, the bean become much more bean-like and a double-shelling is absolutely necessary. I've tried the pesto with both single and double-shelled early favas and prefer it with the beans double-shelled. 

The photo above attempts to break down the anatomy of a fava bean. Apparently you can boil them and eat them, shell and all, but you probably want to use an even smaller bean than the one shown on this dinner plate. This skin is already pretty thick. Once shelled, the beans have a waxy coating, as shown next to the pod. The third bean has part of the waxy peeling removed. The fourth image is the waxy coating, and the fifth bean is fully peeled. At this stage, you can even eat the beans raw. They taste like a large, raw pea. 

The Fava Bean Pesto

(Note that this pesto is great on pasta and risotto as well.) 

Shelled weights vs. unshelled weights/amounts: Approximately 1.5 lbs (24 oz.) of whole fava beans =  8 oz. of single shelled beans, or just over a cup. This same amount double-shelled = 4.5 oz or about 3/4 of a cup. Weights and measurements will vary, of course. 

If it's still early in the season and you choose to single-shell, the pesto will have more fiber and a bit less flavor. If you choose to double-shell, the pea-like flavor will better come through. To double-shell the beans, you can simply make a slit with a knife, then remove the waxy coating. Another method is to parboil the beans. To do this, you simply boil the single-shelled beans for 2-3 minutes, strain, then dump them in a bowl filled with ice to stop the cooking.

From here, you'll likely want to remove the beans from the ice bath and let them dry on a towel. The waxy coating wrinkles like a layer of dead skin, and you can pull it right off. 

Once the beans are single or double-shelled to your liking, throw them in a food processor with a clove or three of garlic. Squeeze in some lemon (I like the bright hint of flavor), some ground black pepper to taste, then blend. I then add in the cheese. You can go a little lighter on the cheese, if you'd like, but don't skimp too much (use at least 1/4 cup). It really is key to the flavor. Add a Tbsp. of olive oil at first, then blend again. Add as much more olive oil (or lemon) as you need for the mixture to form a paste. If you'd like to add nuts, feel free to do so. 

Topping the Pizza

Preheat an oven to 500°F. If using a pizza stone, give it at least 30 min. to heat.

Scrape the pesto from the bowl of the food processor into another bowl, or directly onto the pizza if you're ready for it. Use the back of a spoon to smooth the pesto in a circular motion around the crust. Over the pesto, place strips of fontina cheese to cover the pizza, making sure to place cheese around the edges to frame the pesto. I find that the fontina is so soft that grating it doesn't work that well, yet it can be done if you're determined. Over the cheese, distribute any toppings like mushrooms and olives that you would like cooked. 

Cook for 8 min. at 500°F, or a bit longer at a lower temperature. Let the pizza cool at least 5 minutes before adding any greenery or flowers. Then cut and enjoy!


-see my sourdough recipe or use one of your own. Alternatively, use any ready-made crust, french bread, or flat bread.

Fava Bean Pesto

-Approximately 4.5 oz double-shelled or 8 oz. single-shelled favas (best double-shelled but can do single-shelled earlier in season)

-1/4-1/2 cup Parmesan, romano or similar cheese (use at least 1/4 cup, or replace with cashews to make it vegan)

-1/4 lemon squeezed

-1/4 tsp. or so ground black pepper

-1 Tbsp + olive oil (add until forms a paste)

-1-3 cloves garlic (to taste)

-(add 2 Tbsp. pine nuts if desired; you can also try a dash or paprika, fresh parsley, basil, or mint)


-one large mushroom

-5oz fontina cheese with fava beans (soft goat cheese is also great!)

-black olives

-a few double-shelled fava beans 

-A few fava bean leaves and flowers (if you grow the favas, it's a nice touch)

Other Toppings to Try

-goat cheese (in place of fontina)

-artichoke hearts




-For a vegan version, try cashew nuts in place of parmesan in the pesto. Sprinkle with Daiya mozzarella.

Special Equipment

-food processor (or mortar and pestle) for pesto

-pizza stone and peel (or other baking system) 

-pizza cutter