Regarded in Catholicism as the Lenten holiday that celebrates the “lucky bean,” fava beans figure prominently due to their seasonal arrival, and for their role in averting famine.
During times of great stress, it is important to remember the resilience of those who work the land and navigate, not only disease, but also hunger and drought. A Medieval famine is remembered each and every year on March 19th: St. Joseph’s Day.
In Sicily and wherever migration brought Sicilians to the rest of the world, including New Orleans, adherents set up altars in living rooms, churches and community centers with mostly vegetarian (and seafood) dishes to commemorate the ingenuity of peasants to survive, despite the challenges.
They were primarily grown as fodder for animals. Instead, during famine peasants turned to fava beans for human consumption. Rich in minerals and vitamins, fava beans are hardy legumes that require little water — especially these older, endangered varieties (like Sicily’s Ustica) on the Slow Food Ark of Taste. Even to this day, it is not uncommon to encounter someone of Sicilian origin to carry a lucky bean just to remember these lessons. The roots of the holiday appear to date back to Greek and then Roman tributes to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and prosperity; and then it was adopted by early Christians, gaining increased currency during times of famine.
Dish: Fava and Fennel Soup (Macco)
Ark of Taste products: Ustica fava bean
If you don’t have luck and are unable to find these plump and green fresh this time of year in farmers markets, do not despair. Dry and canned fava beans are also delicious. In fact, the traditional Fave Macco soup recipe calls for dried fava beans. Once dried, the fava loses its outer shell’s mossy green color. It turns brown. Either way, if you find fresh, use them. They are special. If not, be prepared to soak overnight and cook the dried beans a relatively long time to become soft, before combining ingredients.
Fennel’s arrival to local farmers markets, too, is a sign that spring is here. Its strong, yet super fresh-green flavor matches so well with the earthy fava. Enjoy them before the heat knocks them back and makes them all woody.
- 500 g shelled fresh fava beans (or canned if you cannot find fresh)
- 800 ml/cc water for the soup
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- Zest of one lemon, finely chopped
- 100 g onion, finely chopped
- 100 g fennel bulb, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- fennel fronds that come with the bulb, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- A splash of orange water
- salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
Follow the instructions below, if using fresh fava beans. However, if using canned fava, then add to the pot, once the onions and fennel are soft and translucent. For dried fava, do much the same (once you have soaked the beans overnight, then cooked in boiling hot water until soft — maybe an hour or more).
- Remove fresh fava beans from their long green pods. Pour water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the salt and beans, then cook on medium heat for 5 min. You will notice how they turn a brighter green and become a little puffy. That is when they are ready.
- Remove the beans from the water, and keep aside (retain the cooking liquid for the soup).
- Meanwhile, in a shallow pan, sauté fennel seeds, onion and chopped fennel bulb with the olive oil for about 5 min or until tender and translucent but not brown. Add the chopped parsley while still hot and mix in.
- The great fava bean debate is to pinch or not to pinch the interior bright green bean from its waxy outer shell. Upscale restaurants tend to do this step. I seriously doubt that any peasant in his or her right mind would waste this wonderful layer of texture from the concoction. If you choose to squeeze out of the skin, you will wind up with a smoother texture, but you will lose some of the rustic elements of the dish. Mash or purée the beans with a hand-mixer or food processor. You do not want the paste to be as smooth as Arabic foul. It should still have some texture to it.
- Combine the bean paste and sautéed vegetables into the pot of 500 cc/ml fava bean liquid water. Bring the mixture back to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring until the soup turns thick.
- Add salt and black pepper to taste.
- Pour into bowls. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with fennel fronds.
To serve: Pour into bowls. Drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with the finely-chopped fennel fronds. Ideal to serve with thick slices of rustic bread and butter.
–> This recipe is part of the Meat the Change campaign, carried out to raise awareness among producers and consumers about the environmental impact of meat consumption and production. Find out more here
–> To learn more about Meatless Monday: Watch the videos about how it is going global; and the tour of Terra Madre. To join us, submit a recipe of your own via email ([email protected]). If you prepare this week’s recipe, post images online using the hashtags #MeattheChange and #MeatlessMonday.