Let’s take a quick trip to Sicily today. It’s the largest island in the Mediterranean, has been influenced by many cultures passing through and spending time over the centuries, and offers an immense variety of fresh produce and seafood. I was recently transported there while reading my review copy of Sicily: Recipes from an Italian island by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi. The two of them operate two Italian restaurants and a cooking school in England. As they tasted their way around Sicily in hopes of finding some great, secret recipes, they repeatedly learned the “secret” for the best dishes was an obsession with the absolute freshness of the ingredients. The book’s chapters introduce you to Palermo and Its Street Food, Antipasti, Soups, Contorni, Pasta Rice and Couscous, Meat and Poultry, Fish, and Dolci and Cocktails. I had a hard time deciding what to make first. I was immediately curious about the Cauliflower in Red Wine in which parboiled cauliflower is sauteed with anchovies and garlic before the mixture is simmer with red wine and tomato paste. Next, I was pulled in by the Orange and Basil Risotto recipe involving zest and juice of an orange. Of course, there are several pasta dishes I want to try like the Sardine and Wild Fennel Sauce for spaghetti or busiate. But, in the end I decided on a soup so I could use a new stewpot I received from Lagostina. The pot is made for cooking polenta or minestrone with those words debossed on the lid, and it’s great-looking with the roundness of its shape and the curved handles. It comes with a wooden spoon for stirring and a metal ladle for serving, and the retail price is $199.95. Lagostina’s philosophy is to “attach the greatest importance to the aesthetic quality of our products because in Italy beauty is everywhere.” And, you could win one of these beauties! Just leave a comment on this post before 12/16/2016 when I’ll randomly pick one winner.
To use this lovely stewpot, I decided to make the Broad Bean and Fennel Seed Soup. The broad beans, or fava beans, used here are in their dried form. I have a bag that I use from time to time for falafel. The beans have had their skins removed, and some are split. They need to be soaked overnight before beginning the soup. The soaked and drained beans were combined with a white onion cut in half, crushed fennel seeds, finely chopped celery, extra-virgin olive oil, water, and some white wine. The mixture was brought to a boil and then simmered until the beans were tender. Then, you have options to consider. You can serve a more brothy soup, or you can puree it, or you can puree some of it to thicken the soup slightly. Pureed cooked beans like this are sometimes served with sauteed greens. My choice was to puree some of the soup to thicken it and leave some of the beans whole and then top it with sauteed greens. It was also garnished with lemon zest, a drizzle of olive oil, and freshly ground black pepper.
The beans provided a very mild base for the soup, and the fennel seeds and lemon added more decisive flavor. With the garlicky, sauteed greens on top, this was the right kind of soup for a chilly evening. Watching it simmer in that pretty pot made the experience even better. To be entered to win one just like it, leave a comment with your email address so I can contact you. The winner must provide a mailing address in the US. Good luck!
Broad bean and fennel seed soup
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Sicily: Recipes from an Italian island.
Dried broad (fava) beans have a distinctive, earthy flavour and a velvety texture unlike their former fresh selves. Do try them, I think the taste is perfectly lovely. In the south of Italy you can find a broad been purée probably introduced by the Romans, cooked from dried like this and served with the wilted green vegetable cicoria, another wonderful combination and easily reproduced with spinach.
In Sicily, you will see the word maccu on menus all over the island; it comes from the word macare, to squash. Broad beans have been a staple of the peasant diet for centuries since they can be eaten fresh and raw in spring with young soft cheeses, boiled briefly through summer and dried for use in autumn and winter. In this case, dried broad beans are soaked overnight, then boiled and squashed to make a mash. If you use split broad beans they will have already been peeled and will take less time to cook. Leave it rough and ready like the ancient peasant soup that it was, or purée it for a sophisticated starter like our friend Marco Piraino, who showed me this recipe. He garnishes it with chopped samphire, drops of good olive oil and a little lemon zest. To make it more filling (it’s already pretty substantial!), put toasted bread drizzled with olive oil into soup bowls and ladle the soup on top, or leave the soup a little rough and mix in some just-cooked short pasta. The maccu sets firm when cold and can be cut into slices, breaded and fried.
500 g (1 lb 2 oz/2 cups) dried broad (fava) beans, with or without skins
1 white onion, cut in half
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar
1 celery stalk, finely sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1.6 litres (54 fl oz/6 3/4 cups) water
4 tablespoons white wine
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
a little chopped samphire or finely grated lemon zest
freshly ground black pepper
Cover the beans in cold water and soak overnight. The following day, drain the beans and discard the water. Slip the beans from their skins if not already peeled.
Put all the ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat to low and let the beans bubble away until they are tender and easily squashed, up to 2 hours, adding a little more water if necessary. Keep a couple of tablespoons of the whole beans to one side for garnish. Puree the soup as much or as little as you like with a stick blender. Pour into warm bowls and garnish with the reserved beans, a swirl of olive oil and the lemon zest or chopped samphire. Finish with a twist of black pepper.
As a vegetable side dish: As the beans are cooking, don’t add extra water but let the mixture become thick. Puree the mixture to a rough or smooth texture and use it as you would mashed potato. In the south of Italy you will often see this served with garlicky sauteed spinach or chard leaves on top.
For sliced maccu: After blending the soup pour it into a lined loaf tin and allow to cool. Put it into the fridge overnight and it will set firm. It can then be cut into 1.5 cm (1/2 in) slices and dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs and fried in hot oil until browned. Drain it on kitchen paper and serve straight away, dusted in a little salt.
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