One of my favorite dishes from Puglia is almost a non recipe: Fave e cicoria. This is one of the first dishes that Domenico told me about when we first met and were talking about food he grew up with. It was a dish I really didn’t ‘get’ until I had it made by his mother down in Bari.
It couldn’t be simpler: a plate full of fave bean mush on one side and boiled chicory on the other. A generous pour of fruity olive oil, and that is it. I know it sounds kind of boring, but it’s anything but. Someone the earthy rusticity of the dried fave puree paired with the bright bitterness of the boiled greens works perfectly. In fact, I love the pairing so much that I’ve managed to adopt the entire idea of ‘beans and greens’ in many different ways.
Last week I turned a version of this into a hearty winter soup. Dried fave were the base, with a bunch of cavolo nero (Tuscan kale) playing the part of the green. I thought it needed something more, like crostini or croutons, but then remembered I had a slab of pancetta in the fridge. Bacon bits! Or my my version of them. Little cubes of crispy fried pancetta sprinkled on top of each dish.
Dried fave are a wonderful bean to keep on hand. Much different than fresh green fave you find in the spring, these are meant to be boiled and turn into a starchy puree. They can add thickness to otherwise thin vegetable soups, or can be used on their own as a side dish. I recently found this recipe for a Turkish appetizer that is full of dill and lemon and that I’m hoping to try soon.
Feel free to play around with whatever green you have on hand. Spinach and Swiss chard are great, and I’m thinking watercress or arugula thrown in at the last minute would work too. And of course you don’t have to add the bacon bits. But….pork as a condiment is always a good thing, right?
- 2 cups dried fave beans
- 1 bunch of cavolo nero leaves, thick stems removed (about 6 cups of leaves) and leaves chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 shallots, chopped
- red pepper to taste (about 1 tsp flakes)
- 3½ inch slices of pancetta, cut into ¼ inch cubes.
- Soak the dried fave beans for 6 hours or overnight.
- Put the beans in a pot and fill with water to cover by about 2 inches. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and bring to a boil. Let cook, at a very low simmer, partially covered, until the beans fall apart. While the beans are cooking, don’t stir or disturb then. If the water has boiled away, just add a bit more.
- In the meantime pour the olive oil into a saute pan and heat to medium. Add the shallot, ½ teaspoon of salt and let soften, for about 10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and red pepper and let cook for two minutes.
- Add the chopped kale and stir for a few minutes. Add about half cup of water, stir and cook until very tender. You may have to add a bit more water, and timing will depend on how tender your greens are.
- Heat a small frying pan and add the pancetta cubes. Cook over medium heat until they give up their fat and are golden and crisp. Transfer with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel.
- When the beans are tender, using a wooden spoon, potato masher or submersible blender, puree the beans roughly. I like there to be some chunks. Add the contents of the kale pan and stir well. Heat over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- To serve: top each dish with some of pancetta and a swirl of your best extra virgin olive oil.