Macco – Sicilian Fava Bean and Fennel Soup

I ran into finocchio, or Florence fennel at a  nearby supermarket the other day. ‘Wow, this is really something quite unexpected…. How on earth can I miss this???’ I had never seen the fresh ‘vegetable’ in this country, but I had been hoping to cook with finocchio or finocchietto since I had Macco for the first time in Sicily this March.

Macco (also known as macco di fave), or Maccu, is a traditional Sicilian thick soup or a soup dish cooked with dried fava beans and wild fennel as primary ingredients. The name of this dish derives from the Latin word, macero which meansto soften or tenderise’. Macco is strongly linked with St Joseph’s Day and eaten well around the saint feast day.

Macco di fave e finocchietto

In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron saint, thanks are given to St. Joseph for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honour him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph’s Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph’s Day custom. Maccu di San Giuseppe is a traditional Sicilian dish that consists of various ingredients and maccu is prepared on this day.    — Wikipedia

fave
dried fava beans @ Ballarò Market in Palermo, 2013

Many activities are scheduled for the feast, including the one called la tavola di San Giuseppe, the St Joseph’s Table. The Table manifestation takes many forms, depending on towns or villages. Upon St. Joseph’s Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies as well as other meatless dishes.

Tavola di San Giuseppe

The central element on the feast of San Giuseppe is bread.  Speaking of bread, I missed the Easter Arches or Bread Arches in San Biagio Platani near Agrigento.

bread arches
Archi di Pasqua – all made of bread

Unfortunately, I couldn’t reach Borgetto to see la Tavola di San Giuseppe due to limited public transportation on Saturday. Instead, I witnessed another interesting custom in Caccamo, a small town up in the mountains where I visited for U Signuruzzu a Cavaddu on Palm Sunday.

dried fava beans
dried fava beans on a front porch on the day after St Joseph’s Day
dried fava beans, empty pot, oranges at a front door
oranges, bread, ash (representing burned sawdust?), flowers, dried fava beans on an alley
baskets on a front porch
empty baskets for petition for the needy? or representing carpenter’s implement (Joseph was a carpenter)?

Not sure what those are for as I didn’t have a chance to ask the locals about the custom. It’s not on the altar but a kind of la Tavola di San Giuseppe, I guess.

Macco ingredients

Sorry for the long introduction. Anyway, I was so fascinated by the soup, very simple dish though, that I was thinking about making this soup. Dried fava beans are used for this dish, but I cooked with fresh ones now in season here. And used finocchio bulb, the fronds and fennel seeds because finocchietto/finocchietto selvatico, i.e. wild fennel is unobtainable.

Macco

Ingredients

(for 2-3 servings)

500 g shelled fresh fava beans
800 ml/cc water
1/2 tbsp salt
100 g onion, finely chopped
100 g fennel bulb, finely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped fennel fronds (strip leaves from stems)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper (to season)
(optional: extra virgin olive oil and fennel fronds to garnish)

 

Macco

Method

  1. Pour the water in a pot and bring to the boil. Add the salt and beans, then cook on medium heat for 5 min.
  2. Remove the beans from the water (retain the cooking liquid ) and rinse under cold water. Let cool completely.
  3. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and fennel bulb with the olive oil for about 5 min or until tender and translucent but not brown.
  4. Pinch each bean to squeeze out of the skin. Mash the beans or purée the beans through a sieve.
  5. Put the bean paste into a pot and mix well with 500 cc/ml fava bean liquid. Add the onion, fennel bulb, fennel fronds and fennel seeds. Bring to the boil and simmer on low heat  stirring occasionally for 15 – 20 min or until thick.
  6. Add the salt and black pepper to taste.
  7. Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle olive oil and garnish with fennel fronds on top.

————————

I made it really thick – thicker than the one I had in Palermo – so that it can be used in a pasta dish as well. Browsing on the web, I noticed ‘pasta con Macco’ exists.

pasta con Macco
Trecce di Giulietta (fusilli) con Macco

Still bunches of finocchio left. Okay, Bucatini con Sarde next!! :-9

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