Fava Beans & Chicory
When I hear the term "cucina povera", it makes me kind-of groan, because this so-called "poor peoples food", is more often than not, (in my humble opinion at least), so much superior to many of the pretentious, elitist and trendy foods being consumed by "foodies" the world over. It simply IS.
"Foodies" is another term that makes me... well- shudder actually! I hate that people have to put a name or a tag on everything- can't people just be... people?
I also cringe a little bit when I hear this kind of dish being labelled "vegetarian"- good heavens! We don't label dishes as vegetarian in Italy- that makes it almost an assumption that a meal has to include meat or fish... and it doesn't! So many dishes in Italy and especially in Southern Italy are simply wonderfully cooked vegetables. It would be tedious and redundant to have to call them vegetarian as well- It is just good food! It is irrelevant what it costs to make, whether meat is a part of the deal, or who is eating it!
This is a simple plate of dried fava beans that have been soaked for 12 hours, cooked and mashed and enriched and some fresh, light, bitter chicory greens- the kind we love in Southern Italy. Together with a couple of slices of crispy, toasted bread, they make for a wonderful dish- a classic meal enjoyed in Puglia on a daily basis and available at every single restaurant in the region... whether by the rich or by the poor!
And now that I have calmed down a little... I will tell you how to make it!
This is another dish that I learned to love on my recent trip to Lecce in Puglia, South Italy. It really is on every menu at every restaurant and it really is made day-in and day-out by people throughout the region.
This is my version, a little chunkier and more rustic-looking than many, but of course that is simply a matter pf preference and I prefer to have a chunky mash of fava beans than the ultra-smooth versions that I sometimes have seen. But the only thing that is really important is the combination of flavors and textures in this dish- and these are always going to be a delight!
The ingredients are almost frighteningly basic and few... I love it! Fresh chicory greens- the Italian kind, similar to dandelion greens, a little onion, the dried beans, a little rosemary and onion... garlic- which I did not have at home (!!!) and some toasted bread on the side. The quantities are not of any real importance here- this is purely about the method... which is also as simple as can be!
I hope my friends in the Salento will approve of how I made my version of their dish- I based it on a couple of different methods that I had people share with me, my own intuition and a little personal preference... which is the way i think EVERYBODY should cook! Learn the method and then make it your own!
This does take a little time to prepare, as the fava beans take both a long time to soak- at least 12 hours... and then a relatively long time to cook- between 1 1/2 and 2 hours. If they are in season, you can use fresh fava beans... if you can get them in cans- I would have no quarrel with that! As for me- I had to sit it out and wait for 2 hours... but after that time, simmering away in salted water, with a bay leaf for flavor but more importantly, to make them lighter to digest, they were soft to the touch and easy to mash down into a soft purée- perfect!
The chicory needs to be cut down into more manageable lengths of around 3-4" and boiled in salted water for around 15 minutes, until it is a brilliant green color and soft and tender. Drain it, add a little fresh pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and you are almost ready to go.
You need some kind of rustic bread, very thinly sliced and toasted, to give that special crunch that makes this dish such a delight to eat. As I try to reduce the amount of bread I eat, I don't always keep a loaf at home- to make it easier to resist temptation!!!. So I bought a rustic roll, which I allowed to dry-out overnight in order let it become firmer and easier to slice very thinly and cut that into little slices- which of course also looked better. Just make sure to use a nice brown bread- white bread would be way to bland.
I toasted the bread slices with just the tiniest amount of olive oil until it was crispy and golden brown.
Back to the beans now, which needed to be finished off and infused with good flavor- which I added in the form of a finely chopped onion, which I "sweated-down" in a little olive oil with a hint of rosemary, until it became transparent and sweet and juicy.
I added the onions to the beans, which had been drained-off and seasoned them with freshly ground pepper and a little nutmeg.
And as everything was already soft and tender, it took no time at all to mash the beans and onion together into a smooth past. And as I had mentioned earlier- a little garlic would not have been a bad thing either!
You can also use a kitchen machine of some kind, should you not like any chunky in the fava purée- but I love mine chunky! I served it up with more freshly ground pepper and a last drizzle of olive oil, that paper-thin toasted bread and a smile. Because I knew just how good this tasted!
Beautiful Italian food... That is all!