Hey, Fellow Travelers! I’m finally back with a brand new recipe! Today, I’m going to teach you how to make maccu or macco di fave (pronounced mock-oo or mock-oh dee fahv-eh), a traditional Sicilian soup or stew of crushed fava (broad) beans.
As I said in a previous post, one of the reasons that I have not been posting very faithfully on here is because I have been very busy cooking a lot of different recipes, mostly Sicilian ones. This recipe in particular is one of my personal favorites that I have discovered recently. I’ve made it several times and I can say that I love it more and more every time I make it. And I’m sure that once you make maccu for yourself, you’ll agree.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Per the unwritten food bloggers code, I have to blather on and on a little bit more before I give you the actual recipe. 😉
Like I said earlier, maccu is a traditional soup of pureed or crushed fava beans that is widely eaten throughout Sicily. It was a meal that according to tradition was eaten by Sicilian farmers before or after a day in the fields. No doubt the beans would either give or replenish some much-needed energy before or after a long hard day of work. It is also a dish that is sometimes eaten on the Feast of St. Joseph, which is observed on March 19th.
Traditionally, maccu is prepared with dried fava beans and often paired with one or more different types of vegetables (for a more detailed discussion of some variants of maccu as well as explanation of the dish’s name, see footnotes 1 and 2). Usually, fava beans are soaked overnight and then boiled for several hours until they turn into a thick mush.
My version, however, takes a much more simplistic approach. Instead of using fresh or dried fava as is usually the case, I use canned fava beans along with the liquid they’re packed in. The beans are cooked until tender or heated through and smashed into a thick paste with a potato masher. Also, my version consists of six simple ingredients: olive oil, spring onions, garlic, fava beans, black pepper and fennel fronds. I love the rich, meaty taste of the fava beans along with the refreshing bits of onion and garlic. The fennel fronds are a very nice finishing touch, adding a subtle sweetness to the dish.
The beautiful thing about maccu is that it is such a versatile dish. It can be eaten as a soup or stew. It can be served hot or cold as a party dip. It can be used as a filling for panini or a topping for bruschetta. It can even be used as a pasta sauce. The earthy, meaty taste of the beans is lovely on pasta. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can even prepare maccu and mix it with a little bit of tomato sauce and plant milk and make a delicious meat-free ragu they even your meat-eating friends will love. You won’t believe it’s not meat!
The not so beautiful thing about maccu is having to skin the fava beans. Ugh. It doesn’t matter if you use fresh, frozen, dried, fresh or canned favas; if you want a relatively smooth and creamy texture, you have to take the skins off the fava beans. It’s an annoying step, but it beats eating the soup and constantly chewing on the skins. Although I have to admit, most of the time I skin only the really big fava beans in the can and leave the smaller ones with the skin on. Nobody said that you can’t always cut a few corners here and there. 😉
While maccu may not be the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, I guarantee it will be one of the tastiest things you will ever eat.
Note: the following recipe makes enough maccu for about two people. If you want to make more maccu, I recommend doubling the recipe. If you find the maccu too thick, you may wish to water it down a little. I have not yet attempted this as I like maccu very thick. You may also wish to water maccu down slightly if you decide to use it as a pasta sauce, but again I’ve never done this.
2 tbsp. (30 ml) olive oil
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or chopped
1 14 oz. (400 g) can fava/broad beans, drained with liquid reserved (see footnote 3)
Salt and pepper
Fennel fronds, to taste (see footnote 4)
Chop the onions and garlic and put aside.
Drain the fava beans, reserving the liquid until needed.
Remove the skin from the fava beans by grabbing the sides of the beans with your thumb, index and middle finger and gently apply pressure. The skin should slide off easily. Discard the skin. You may wish to not skin the beans or to only skin the larger ones. Be advised that not peeling the beans will give the maccu a much more chewier texture.
Pour the olive oil into a large deep pot. Set the fire to medium-high and once the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic. Fry for about 2-3 minutes.
After 2-3 minutes, turn the heat off and allow the oil to cool slightly. Then add the reserved bean liquid, along with the fava beans.
Turn the heat back on and bring the beans to a boil. Depending on the toughness of the beans, you may need to cook the beans for a few minutes until they become tender. If the beans seem fairly tender before cooking, just bring them up to a boil (see footnote 5).
Remove from heat, then take a potato masher and crush the beans into a thick paste. If you find the puree to be too thin, you may need to simmer it for a few minutes.
Pour the bean puree into bowls to serve as a stew. Garnish with fennel fronds. Alternatively, you can use the puree as a pasta sauce, as a filling for panini, a topping for bruschetta, or serve cold as a party dip.
1. The name maccu/macco is believed to be derived from the Latin word maccare, meaning to crush or smash. This seems likely since the soup consists primarily of crushed or smashed fava beans. If this is the case, it can be assumed that this dish had its origins during the period of Roman rule in Sicily (241 BC–476 AD). Recipes for stews consisting of either crushed or pureed fava beans or peas were well-known to the ancient Romans (see Apicius, De re coquinaria V.3.189-191).
2. Throughout Sicily, there exist numerous variants of maccu. Some versions consist merely of fava beans cooked for a long period of time until they become a thick mush. Others consist of crushed fava beans with some type of vegetable, such as carrots, celery, or chopped fennel. In Catania, it is common for fava beans and peas to be paired together, whereas in Palermo there exists a version of maccu with fava and pumpkin. In southeastern Sicily, there also exists a version of maccu with fava beans and other various mixed beans and vegetables that is eaten on the feast of Saint Joseph. There is also a version of maccu that once prepared is allowed to cool completely and is then sliced, breaded and fried, much like the Sicilian chickpea fritters known as panelle.
3. In the United States, fava beans can easily be found in most Italian or Middle Eastern markets, as well as some grocery stores. If you are unable to find fava beans or do not like them, butter beans may be substituted.
Butter beans can be peeled in the same manner as described above, although they tend to be a bit more delicate and are more likely to break apart. This isn’t much of an issue since you’re going to smash the beans anyways. The maccu made from butter beans tends to be a bit more watery then fava based maccu. If it seems too watery, simmer the puree until it thickens.
Maccu made with butter beans tends not to be as meaty tasting as fava bean maccu, but instead tastes very similar to chickpeas, at least to me.
Another bean that can be used in place of fava beans are black eyed peas. These are my favorite beans to use in place of favas since they do not require peeling and their taste is relatively similar to favas, although slightly less bitter. However, maccu made with black eyed peas may need to be simmered in order to thicken, just as when using butter beans.
4. You can also use fresh or dried oregano, thyme, rosemary or basil in place of fennel fronds.
5. The tenderness of canned fava beans tends to be very subjective, at least in my experience. I’ve had cans where the beans were soft and others that felt like they were raw.