There’s something about autumn, with the nights drawing in, that makes me yearn for rustic food. Really rustic food, the sort of stuff I could imagine people eating in front of an open fire in some draughty cottage a couple of centuries ago. Yes, very Thomas Hardy, I know, very Woodlanders. Although if Thomas Hardy’s characters had eaten a bit more of today’s soup, maybe they wouldn’t have been so unbearably miserable the whole time.
Of course, fava beans have been a part of our diet for a lot longer than a couple of centuries, and were eaten in the UK back in the Iron Age. But somewhere along the line they fell somewhat out of fashion, and in the dried version, practically disappeared. Unless of course I was imagining it. Perhaps, all around me, the rest of the population were feasting on dried fava beans day in, day out. But, distracted as I may be about other things (most things, my wife would say), I’ve always been pretty much aware about what people around me are eating, so I’m betting that they just weren’t on the menu, even in vegetarian restaurants.
However, the fact that they now seem more usually referred to as fava beans (when I was a kid, they were simply broad beans) would seem to confirm that they have enjoyed a renaissance, a result of Britain’s love for all things Mediterranean. And let’s be honest, fava sounds much better than broad bean, much more Italian. Not surprising really, since, as you’ll have gathered from the title, fava is in fact the Italian name for it.
And here in Sicily we’ve got the best there are. Leonforte, in the heart of the island, is renowned amongst legume-lovers for its huge fava beans, which when dried acquire an earthy intensity that is almost meaty, like good beef. My advice is to go with the flow, and cook them with smoky speck and in beef stock. Eat, of course, with Italian pane rustico, all washed down with a robust Sicilian red.
- 500g dried fava beans
- 1 large onion, chopped
- A couple of carrots, chopped
- 1 stick of celery, chopped
- Sprig of parsley, chopped
- 100g speck or pancetta, diced
- 1 litre vegetable or beef stock
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Put your dried beans in enough water to cover them abundantly, and leave them to soak. Check the instructions on the packet, but 8-12 hours is about usual. If you manage to find fava beans from Leonforte, they’ll need 24 hours. Yes, they really do take that long. Once well soaked and swollen, drain.
- Put all the ingredients except the oil and pepper in a pressure cooker, bring to the boil and once it starts whistling, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes. Cool well before opening (but if you use pressure cookers, you’ll know this anyway). Serve there and then, or if you really want to taste the soup at its best, leave and then reheat the next day. If using a normal saucepan, follow the cooking instructions for the beans on the packet. Either way, simplicity itself – just chuck everything in a pan and cook until the beans are nice and soft inside.
- Ladle out into soup plates and drizzle over some good olive oil and if you like some chilli flakes and/or freshly ground black pepper.