Fava bean purée is one of the oldest preparations of Sicilian cuisine. Widely spread all over the island, there are countless variations, differentiated by area of origin, ingredients, texture and final appearance.
Among them, particularly well known is that of Raffadali, a small village of Agrigento still known as u paisi du maccu (the village of macco), that dedicated a festival to the traditional dish on the occasion of the Festa della Madonna del Rosario. It is a fava bean purée that can have the appearance of soup, if you want to taste it with pasta. Its name should come from the late Latin maccare, which means to crush, to mash. Another etymological hypothesis refers to the fool glutton Maccus, a recurring character of the Roman atellan farce, a genre of farcical comedy. Significant is a typical mask of the Carnival of Palazzolo Acreide called Mangiamaccu, ‘nciura (funny nickname) also used by citizens of neighboring villages to mean the inhabitants of the baroque village. An ancient predecessor of the macco can be the puls, legume or cereal polenta daily consumed by Roman plebs. There is evidence of a puls fabata (fava bean soup) by Pliny the Elder, who describes it as a sacred dish of an archaic religion. Compared to the Romans, in Sicily the habit of eating fava beans only during funeral rites was soon abandoned. They became central to the island’s rural diet, especially dried since they were available all year round, thanks to their exceptional nutritional properties, that elevated them to the rank of animal proteins and being considered the meat of the poor. Fava bean purée, typical of the rural areas and inland, probably became central in the diet of Palermo when the city, affected over the centuries by migration flows, was reached by the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside. In fact, the madonita version, characterized by the wild fennel, is very similar to that typical of the main town. In spring purée is made with seasonal fresh fava beans, that require a short cooking time and give a bright green color to the dish. Purée can be served as a first course with pasta, preferably with broken spaghetti or fresh pasta. Considering the long cooking times, it is recommended to prepare the fava bean purée in a clay cooking pot.
500g shelled dried fava beans
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
chili pepper (optional)
Soak the fava beans in cold water for at least 12 hours. Once ready rinse them. Finely chop the onion and the wild fennel, then fry the onion, add fava beans and fennel and brown for a couple of minutes. Cover with water and lightly salt. Cover the pan with a lid and let cook at moderate heat for at least two and a half or three hours. Stir occasionally, pressing with the wooden spoon to mash the fava beans. When cooked, season with salt. Serve with a drizzle olive oil, pepper and, if you want, some chili pepper.