Ancient Foods: A Recipe from Puglia – the Heart of the Mediterranean

19th July 2019
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by Ursula Janssen

In Apulian cuisine, there are usually only few ingredients required in a dish, but they are of impeccable quality and freshness, their flavours enhanced by the age-old knowledge of how to make the very best out of the available. With influences from all over the Mediterranean and beyond – Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Longobards, Arabs, Normans and Spaniards, who all have left something of their tradition, language, architecture, way of life, and likewise cuisine – this region is the heart, the essence of the Mediterranean.

The perfect dish to prove this interaction between a profound appreciation for the fruits of the earth and the history of the place is also the signature dish of the Valle d'Itria: Purè di fave – fava bean purée.

But what is so special about a simple bean dish? I will explain. Above all, it combines one of the hardiest, most sustainable and most ancient crops – the fava bean – with the overall goodness of abundant olive oil and fresh vegetables. Fried peppers are a popular option but even more original are the sautéed leaves of wild herbs: wild chicory, sonchus, and other plants that bear a different name in each village. Resourcefulness, tenability and savour – all in one dish. As a reminiscence to the modern palate potatoes are commonly added to the purée, which gives it a smoother texture and milder taste.

And the historical conext? Well, purè di fave is recorded to have been one of the favourite dishes of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily, Rome and Jerusalem and Duke of Swabia, crowned in Germany, Italy and the Holy Land, who ordered the construction of the Castel del Monte, a man who spoke fluently Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic, hence the essence of the Mediterranean and beyond, just like Apulia. And so, unsurprisingly, his very own favourite version of purè di fave includes Oriental flavours and spices, like saffron, and is topped with onions caramelized in honey and sprinkled with cinammon.

(Photos by Manoocher Deghati)
Recipe: Purè di fave

Ingredients:

500 g dried fava or broad beans
2-3 potatoes
1 kg chicory
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves
Salt

Method:

Soak the dried beans in water and let them sit for at least 12 hours. Rinse the beans and put them in a pan with the potatoes on top, covering them with water. Cook until they are soft, which might take a couple of hourse. Meanwhile, sautée the chicory with chopped garlic in olive oil.

Once the fava beans are soft, the traditional method will ask the cook to hold the pot between his or her legs and, with a wooden spoon, vigorously beat the beans with while working a good amount of olive oil into them. (We're talking cups here, not drops.) Alternatively one can also use a whisk or a potato masher, although some people would strictly disagree.

Season with salt and serve the mashed beans with the chicory and some drizzles of olive oil on top. Or, for the medieval version of Frederick II, omit the potatoes and add some saffron to the purée.

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