Fava Bean Soup
Allison Scola knows everything about Sicily and shares her heritage and wisdom via Experience Sicily, small group tours of Sicily and customized Sicily travel. She shares with us a personal story about Saint Joseph and a recipe for a hearty, healthy fava bean soup. If you would like to join us in Italy in July 2019, Allison is co-creator and co-host of our tour Southern Secrets: Campania & Sicily's Hidden Corners.
Two years ago January, our New York City rent was raised 12%. It was a shock. My husband and I immediately began a search for a new home, one we could buy that we would love. That would be ours. We combined our respective life savings and started our hunt. Sadly, we accepted that we could no longer live in New York City. Self-employed and artists, the City was no longer affordable.
About five years ago, my fondness for Saint Joseph and Saint Joseph’s Day traditions grew. Knowing that San Giuseppe, as he is called in Italian, is the patron saint of Bagheria, the town from where my grandmother emigrated, has made my affinity for him strong. Apropos, as the patron saint of carpenters, he is who you ask for help when buying and selling a home. For Experience Sicily Saint Joseph’s Day events, I created altars aiming to emulate the one I photographed in Salemi, Sicily in 2016, yet on a smaller scale. I realized quickly that the creation of the traditional bread loaves definitely was a meditation, and when your heart goes into the art, it certainly feels like an act of prayer. As I molded wreaths, ladders, tools, nails, beards, flowers, and grapes, part of my silent appeals were to find an apartment we would love–one that offered us something refreshing if we couldn’t be in the city we loved.
Well, as I write, I’m in that new home that meets the requirements we were determined to fulfill. And as a bonus, it’s very close to the City. Here just two months, we still have a lot of settling in to do, but I know that Saint Joseph is supporting me and my husband, Joe, as we make this place a home. (And our downstairs neighbor—an important ally when you are musicians—is named Joe too!) This year’s feast holds special significance for me, and my bread making has absolutely been an act of prayer and thanksgiving, the true meaning behind the feast.
In addition to bread, another important traditional food for la Festa di San Giuseppe is maccu or macco, fava bean soup. Fava beans, which are plentiful in Sicily, sustained the populous during a severe drought and famine in the 10th century when the faithful prayed to Saint Joseph to bring rain. In the Northern Hemisphere, March marks a period of scarcity, when stored supplies are dwindling, yet there are still some months before the Earth will yield a new crop. Macco is a hearty soup to warm us during these last few weeks of chilly days. Flash frozen fava beans from Sicily are available at Teitel Brothers, but you'll have to ask for them as the freezer is tucked away in the supply room. Also ask the guys behind the counter at Teitel for the jarred wild fennel.
Macco Fava Bean Soup
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
3 pounds (about 6 cups) shelled fresh or frozen fava beans, blanched and peeled
4 cups hot water
1 cup wild fennel, blanched and chopped (optional)
Fine sea salt and black pepper
1 cup ditalini or other small dried pasta (optional)
Combine 1/3 cup olive oil and the onion in a wide pot and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the fava beans and stir to coat with the oil, then add the water, wild fennel (if using), and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook, partially covered, until the fava beans break down to form a puree, about 30 minutes.
Stir in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta (if using) in a small pot of boiling well-salted water. Divide the soup among bowls and top with the pasta. Serve immediately.