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Favette e Cicoria

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.

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Ciambotta

Basilicata

I’m now entering the second region of Italy in my Regions of Italy project. I’m going to come back to Abruzzo for my fourth recipe from that region when one of the ingredients I need is in season.

The second area is called Basilicata, and it’s familiar territory because it’s where my family is from.

As I looked through the myriad recipes from Basilicata, I realized that I knew many of them, and since the goal of my project is to explore the cuisines of Italy, I skipped over the family favorites to dishes that sounded new to me.

So, one of the recipes I chose was Ciambotta, or Vegetable Stew. I sounded really good. It’s a stew of peppers, potatoes, and eggplant. Similar to ratatouille, it differs from the French version in that the eggplant is sliced and sautéed until browned first before going into the stew, and tomato puree is added. And really not much else.

After it was cooked, I sat down to eat it…and immediately my memory banks flew open. This tasted so familiar, I figured I had to have had it before. But I couldn’t remember my mother making a dish that had those three specific ingredients together. I called my mother and asked her if she’d ever made such a stew, and she said, “Yes, of course. We called it ciambotta in our dialect.” And then she proceeded to tell me how to make it, even though I’d told her that I’d already made it, and what else I can add to it.

Yep, I knew those flavors very well. Even though I hadn’t remembered them initially, the taste and aroma brought it all right back. How can you forget the things you ate while growing up in a house with an Italian mother who put her entire self-worth in the foods she prepared for her family?

You can’t. It comforted me. It warmed me in a way that the heat of summer outside couldn’t. I gobbled it up.

So, here’s the recipe for Ciambotta from La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy, with my adjustments, because, as usual, the instructions (and some of the ingredients) are vague.

Have this thick, hearty, delicious stew with crusty Italian or French bread. Enjoy!

Ciambotta

Vegetable Stew

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 4 servings.

½ pound Italian eggplant, sliced into ¼-inch-thick half-moons*
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ pound red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
½ pound potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1¼ cups tomato puree
1 large garlic clove, minced

Place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon salt. Toss to coat all the eggplant. Let this sit for ½ hour. Quickly rinse them under running water and dry them thoroughly.

Heat half the oil in a wide pan. Add the eggplant and a pinch of salt. Sauté over medium heat until browned.Meanwhile, in another large pan or Dutch oven, heat the remaining oil. Add the peppers, potatoes, and a pinch of salt and sauté until the potatoes start to take on color. (This could take anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of your pan and how spread out the potatoes are. In my case, it took longer because I chose to make the stew in my 2-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven, which is my new favorite pot and I look for any reason to use it. One of these days, when my ship comes in, I will splurge on that 5-quart Le Creuset.) Stir frequently, as potatoes want to stick to pots and pans. Add the puree and stir to combine.Mix in the eggplant. Add the garlic and continue sautéing another minute. If the bottom of the pot looks like it’s burning, add a little liquid (water, broth, wine) and scrape the browned bits up. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and cook until a thick stew forms, about 40 to 50 minutes. Stir often and scrape up brown bits from the bottom of the pot as it forms. Taste for salt and add more, if needed.Serve this stew with fresh, crusty Italian or French bread.

*Cut the eggplant lengthwise in half, then each half in half. Then slice each piece in half-moons.


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Chieti Cookies

Abruzzo

This is the third recipe in my Regions of Italy project. It’s a cookie that comes from the town of Chieti in Abruzzo. It is unique in that it calls for dry red wine.

I really want to say that these cookies are awesome. Unfortunately, this recipe was a complete disaster right from the start. Here’s why.

The original recipe said to make a well with flour, and in the well, to put sugar, oil, and salt. Then, you start adding wine to form an elastic dough. This couldn’t possibly make an elastic dough because it’s basically a sugar cookie. There’s no yeast, no rising, no kneading involved. Bread dough is elastic. Pizza dough is elastic. Cookie dough is not elastic. But I thought, maybe they just used the wrong word in the translation. What they really wanted to say, I surmised, was a dough that comes together, that stays together as a whole. Continue reading