Welcome back to my continuing journey through the Regions of Italy, using the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy as my guide. This week, I’m still in Basilicata, the homeland of my family. Today’s recipe is Favette e Cicoria (pronounced chee-KOHR-ee-ah), or Fava Beans and Chicory. It’s a delicious combination of seasoned fava bean puree and cooked chicory on toasted bread.
There’s some confusion about the term “chicory.” When Americans hear the word “chicory,” their minds often go to the root with blue flowers that is sometimes added to coffee (as in the classic New Orleans-style chicory coffee) or used as a coffee substitute. But for Europeans, chicory is a completely different thing. For Italians, it generally means what Americans refer to as dandelion. Yes, those weeds that grow wildly all over everyone’s lawns and gardens are not only edible, but widely consumed. (If you choose to pick your own, don’t use the poofy pompom part at the top. Do with those what Mother Nature intended us to use them for—make a wish and blow it away. Just use the leaves.) And because chicory root (the one that’s used in coffee) is related to dandelion, it’s sometimes called blue dandelion because of its blue flowers.
Americans also label curly endive as chicory or frisée, both of which are incorrect. To confuse matters further, other vegetables are categorized as “chicory.” What Americans know as Belgian endive also goes by the name witloof chicory, Belgium chicory, blanching chicory, Dutch chicory, and chicon.
In the end, I wasn’t really sure if the authors and translators of the book meant dandelion or curly endive, I finally settled on dandelion. However, I’m positive that this dish would work just as well (maybe better) with curly endive.
What’s unusual about this recipe is that most of the Italian dishes I’ve encountered that contain favas call for fresh fava beans. This is actually the first one I’ve seen that calls for dried fava beans.
However, the recipe doesn’t say whether or not to soak the beans first, as is usually required when using dried legumes. So, I decided to do a quick soak with them by boiling them for 2 minutes, then letting them sit for 1 hour. Cook covered or uncovered? After draining them, should they be peeled, as favas often are? Their outer skin can be tough, and since they were going to be pureed, would the skin hinder the consistency? Speaking of pureeing, was I supposed to puree the favas with the water in the next step, or drain then puree?
And what about the chicory? How long do I cook it? Am I looking for it to get wilted? Soft? Or just blanched? Do I chop it before cooking? I cooked it until fully tender, and I realized late that it would have been easier to eat had I chopped it.
The original recipe calls for mixing the fava bean puree with the cooked greens. I found that this recipe makes quite a bit of puree, perhaps too much for the chicory. So, instead, I kept them separate. Leftover fava bean spread can be used as a dip or spread, slathered in a sandwich, or as a sauce for pasta.
I hope you give this Basilicata specialty a try as well. Enjoy!
Favette e Cicoria
Fava Beans and Chicory
Recipe adapted from La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). Published by Rizzoli Publications.
Makes 8 servings.
1 pound dried fava beans
1 celery rib, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus extra
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra
2 pounds chicory (dandelion or curly endive), cleaned and chopped
8 slices of bread (rustic, Tuscan, Italian, baguette, etc.)
Soak the fava beans overnight in a large bowl with water to cover by 3 inches. OR place the beans in a pot with water to cover by 3 inches, bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 1 hour. Drain and pop the beans out of their skins.Place the beans, celery, onion, and a pinch of salt in a medium pot. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil; lower the heat and cook until beans are fully tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer everything to a blender or food processor; add the red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Add a little olive oil and puree until smooth, adding more oil as needed to make it smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper, if desired.Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chicory and a teaspoon salt. Cook until it’s tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well and place in a bowl. Mix in about 2 tablespoons olive oil.Toast the bread. Spread some of the fava puree on the toast and top with some of the chicory. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.