Cicoria and Pureed Fava Beans
The region of Apulia or Puglia, also known as the heel of the boot (when you think of Italy in the shape of a boot) has always had an agricultural vocation for its vast plateaus and sunny weather. Traditionally, Puglia produces wheat, excellent olive oil, and strong wines.
The food reflects these aspects, being one of the most delicious, authentic and renown as “cucina povera”, or peasant cooking.
The recipe that we will make today is simple, the ingredients are cheap and readily available – in Puglia. Still the result is astounding, with a powerful yet balanced taste of sweetness and bitterness, all seasoned with powerful extra virgin olive oil.
Again, as in most dishes from Southern Italy, the flavors are bold and fiery, as is the country and its people.
Cicoria is a green leaf vegetable, the closest thing that you can buy here in the US is Dandelion greens (from the French Dents de Lion = Lion’s teeth because of the shape of the leaves). In Italy there are many varieties, and my preferred one is the wild one, that as a kid I used to pick from the field during our hikes with my grandmother. It grows everywhere, I believe it is considered an invasive species, and it has a very distinctive bitter, woody taste, that somewhat tones down during the cooking process.
In Rome and southern Italy in general you will find cicoria as a side dish in all the menus of rustic Trattoria style restaurants. People are absolutely convinced that cicoria is a toccasana, a balm for the well-being of your body, and rightly so: cicoria – as all green leafy vegetables – contains a lot of fibers and very few calories (23 calories for 3oz!). It’s rich in minerals like potassium, magnesium, iron, selenium, and contains many vitamins. On top of that, it has digestive and detoxifying properties (as most bitter vegetables help the liver produce bile), is anti-inflammatory, and reduces bad cholesterol. Even the mouth hygiene benefits from it, as it has antibacterial properties.
Fava beans are also loaded with nutrients – but they are definitely richer in carbs and calories. They are used as a staple all around the world. In the Mediterranean basin though, some people are affected by a rare but serious genetic transmitted condition that can be triggered by different factors, one of which is eating fava beans. If you are not born with this condition, you can enjoy your fava beans often.
For 2 portions – as a side dish
1 bunch of Dandelion greens
2 – 3 cloves of garlic
Some crushed hot pepper – optional
3 pounds whole fava beans
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1. Bring half a pot of water to a boil.
2. Cut the stems of the dandelion greens. Wash in abundant water 3 times (I always use the dirty water to water the plants;)
3. Put the dandelions to cook in the boiling, salted water for at least 15 minutes
4. In the meantime, extract the fava beans from the pod by twisting it.
5. Once you have all the beans, with the help of a knife remove the skin; just cut off the top and gently squeeze the bottom, the two halves of the bean will pop out.
6. Put the cleaned fava beans to boil with a clove of garlic and a pinch of salt; you don’t need much water, just enough to cover the beans – they are tender and will cook in minutes.
7. Drain the beans, keeping the water. Drizzle with EV olive oil, mash them like you would do with potatoes – or use a food processor for a silkier texture. If the result feels too thick add one or two tablespoons cooking water.
8. Set aside and keep warm.
9. Drain the dandelions in a colander and squeeze most of the water out with a spoon.
10. Put two tablespoons of EV Olive Oil in a small nonstick pan, add one or two cloves of garlic. Add the cooked dandelions roughly chopped, stir well. Add hot pepper and salt if you like it.
11. Let it cook on a medium flame stirring often, for about 10 minutes. You need to hear the sizzling sound.
12. Put the warm Fava beans puree on a plate, add the sauteed cicoria in the center, and serve. Delicious with a slice of toasted sourdough, and a slice of pecorino cheese on the side.
A Few Notes:
Often the puree is prepared with dry fava beans. If you want to try this version, make sure you buy the shelled or peeled dry fava bean; let them soak overnight in cold water, rinse, and boil in salted water on low for an hour or until very tender. Continue like with fresh beans.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.