my cooking does rely mostly on simple and nourishing dishes, and this peasant recipe can symbolise my philosophy very well. better than the soup i shared a few days ago actually: while soups can be found in different cuisines, italian cooking traditions rely heavily on legumes and vegetables, because they were widely available and most importantly they were cheap – my homeland wasn’t very wealthy half a century ago.
as you may know, italy has spread the so called mediterranean diet, where vegetables, pulses, fish if available, bread and pasta are cooked into simple and nourishing dishes to sustain working men. truth be told, I’m from norther italy and our traditional dishes are a bit different from central and souther ones – think risotto, polenta, pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta seasoned with cheese, winter vegetables such as savoy cabbage, chard, potatoes, and loads of butter), cassoeula (pork and savoy cabbage stew – kind of)… none of them being particularly healthy nor veg friendly. there are more meat and butter involved, as well as cheese, but still there are plenty of naturally plantbased recipes coming from northern italy – they’re just not as popular as others are.
of course the dishes i mentioned, with the only exception of pizzoccheri i guess, were to be eaten on a special occasion – meat was a luxury. now that our society is wealthier we do have the chance to decide wether include it in our diet or not, and i strongly believe that what our grandparents’ parents used to eat is now way too heavy, as the average man no longer breaks his back labouring in the fields. not to mention the health drawbacks such saturated fat-laden diet can trigger.
that being said, what i love about peasant cooking is its heartiness and simplicity. with just a few ingredients you can serve a family and be sure to nourish every member without sacrificing flavor, with the added nutritional (and economic!) bonus that comes from eating seasonal foods.
usually peasant recipes are so easy that they almost require no active time in the kitchen: this dish, for example, will have you mostly waiting for it to be ready. it’s just a matter of soaking, which you can do overnight, and cooking on low heat – and if you’re not like me and add a decent amount of water, you can almost forget about your fava beans during the whole process!
did you know that chicory is actually a botanical family that includes radicchio and other greens as well? most of these vegetables have a bitter taste to them, and they are considered to be very healthy as well: they’re rich in antioxidants and can aid digestion thanks to a specific compound.
a roman nonna would faint reading this, but I used frozen chicory to top my puree with. we’re way past the economic boom after all, so why not to take advantage of frozen foods if you can’t have fresh available?
jokes apart, as chicory isn’t really a thing here in the north I had to turn to its frozen counterpart, which is basically just like spinach. I pulled out a few cubes, boiled them in some salted water and set them aside until my puree was just about ready.
to make the puree you’ll have to soak 200g dry fava beans (mine were split in half) in water for at least two hours or overnight, rinse and drain and cook until the beans fall apart. ideally an earthenware pot would be the perfect vessel to ensure a slow and gentle heat, but you can use any heavy bottomed pot you have. make sure to cover the beans with plenty of water and don’t add any salt to them, or the outside will cook up tough.
an occasional stir will help the legumes to break down and turn into a puree without resorting to a blender. if you notice that the bottom starts to dry out, just add a splash more of water and stir to combine, then cover and let cook.
the whole process will take anywhere from one to two hours, and during this time the fava beans will soften, break down and eventually turn into a chunky puree all by themselves. this will be easier if you shop for split fava beans and remember to soak them overnight.
to impart more flavor to the puree i decided to add some leftover vegetable stock that i had, and when i was left with a chunky puree i seasoned it with salt and pepper, gave it a last good stir and removed from heat. and here’s it, fava bean puree, or purè di fave, ready to be topped off with its garlicky green companion.
now it’s time to go back to our boiled greens. start off by squeezing out as much water as possible – this way you’ll have m0re flavorful chicory.
take out a non-stick skillet and heat up a glug of olive oil, flavored with a garlic clove and one small dry chilli pepper. add those to the oil before heating it up, so that they won’t burn or spray hot oil all around when you add them to the pot. add the greens to the pan (be careful! hot oil will splash and sizzle) and sautee for a few minutes, stirring constantly to fully coat the vegetables with the flavored oil. taste and adjust with salt and pepper to your likings.
now grab a nice rustic bowl and dish everything up: ladle a few spoonfuls of hot puree, top with sauteed chicory and a drizzle of extravirgin olive oil if you like, and enjoy!
also note to my prop stylist self: rustic doesn’t equal almost cracked. can you spot the crack in the bowl? that’s how to break my heart – give me a beautiful vintage piece to add to my collection and let me discover its flaws after the purchase.
until the next time folks! there will be cake. stay tuned and eat good food!
ps. follow me on bloglovin’!
a simple and nourishing dish made from dry fava beans, slow cooked until pureed, topped off with flavorful chicory that gets sauteed with extravirgin olive oil, garlic and chilli peppers.
- 150 g dry split fava beans
- 100 ml vegetable stock
- water to cover
- salt + pepper to taste
- 300 g frozen chicory
- 1 tbsp extravirgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 chilli peppers, dry
- salt + pepper to taste
weigh out and soak 150g dry fava beans in plenty of water overnight.
the next day, drain the fava beans and rinse well, then add the beans to a pot and add water to cover. don’t add any salt to the water at this point.
bring almost to the boil, place the lid on and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours on low heat, checking every now and then to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom. stir occasionally to help the beans to break down, adding water as needed if the puree starts to dry out.
when the beans are mostly broken down to a chunky mixture add the stock, stir and let it fully absorb, stirring constantly. the goal here is to obtain a texture that’s as smooth as possible without using a blender - just a roman nonna would do!
taste and adjust seasonings to you liking. set aside, covered.
while the beans are cooking place another pot of salted water on high heat, bring to a boil and cook the frozen chicory accordingly to the package directions. if you’re using fresh chicory boil it for 15 minutes.
once cooked, drain and squeeze out as much water as possible.
in a shallow pan pour a touch of extravirgin olive oil (make sure to use a quality one!), add a clove of garlic, peeled, and two dry chilli peppers. let the oil soak up all the beautiful flavors while heating up on medium, lower the heat then carefully add your cooked chicory and sautee on medium-high for 5 minutes.
spoon 1/3 of the puree in a bowl or shallow dish, top with chicory, drizzle with additional oil if you like and serve immediately.
this recipe should feed 2 people if served as a main dish, or three people if served as a side.
leftover puree will keep for 1 to 2 days in the fridge and can be enjoyed reheated or cold, just make sure to take it out from the oven about an hour before serving so it's not rock solid.
if you have leftover chicory as well it'd be a nice addition for a quiche filling.