Broad bean & fennel seed soup

Broad bean & fennel seed soup

By
From
Sicily
Serves
6

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.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
500g dried broad 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 water
4 tablespoons white wine
salt, to taste

To serve

Quantity Ingredient
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
a little chopped samphire or finely grated lemon zest
freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Purée 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.

Variations:

  • As a vegetable side dish

    As the beans are cooking, don’t add extra water but let the mixture become thick. Purée 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 sautéed 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 slices and dipped in flour, egg and breadcrumbs (like the Chicken Parmigiana) and fried in hot oil until browned. Drain it on kitchen paper and serve straight away, dusted in a little salt.
Tags:
Italy
Italian
Sicily
Sicilian
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