It seems that St. Patrick’s Day is the only real celebration most people think of when it comes to the month of March. Being of one half Italian heritage, another important day in March is The Feast of St. Joseph. St. Joseph is known as the the patron saint of the worker and the poor throughout Italy, and the fava bean, or broad bean, has the story of being the saviour of a nation, that of Sicily. Yes, Sicily is part of Italy, but that debate will not be waged in this column.
As the story goes, there had been a horrible drought in Sicily. All of the crops died. The fields looked like deserts in a sea of dust. After much praying to St. Joseph, there was one crop that survived and indeed thrived. It was the fava bean, which is why it is now commonly called “the lucky bean.” An added bonus is the nutritional value. They are very low on the Glycemic Index, and in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Favas are also a good source of fiber, protein, phosphorus, copper and manganese, and a good source of folate.
Below are two recipes for traditional dishes that can most certainly be eaten at any time of the year, but are particularly appropriate as part of a meal on this day of celebration.
2 pounds/900g fresh fave beans
1 bunch green scallions
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup/225ml)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon/15ml fresh mint leaves, chopped
zest of one lemon
handful chopped parsley
1/4 cup/60ml olive oil, divided
2 ounces/60g pecorino romano, shaved or grated
1/2 teaspoon/2ml sea salt
1/4 teaspoon/1ml black pepper
Remove the top and tail if using fresh beans. Pop the beans out and boil for 5-10 minutes. They will look wrinkled and grey. Squeeze them to remove the wrinkled skin. The beans will be bright green. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add 1/2 of the oil to the pan. Sauté scallions, onion, and garlic with the bay leaves until the onions are soft (about 4 minutes). Add beans and cook for another 4-5 minutes or the beans are soft. Remove the mixture to a bowl, removing the bay leaves. Add the lemon zest, parsley, mint, remaining oil, and cheese. Toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper. This can be served as a first course or over rice or pasta.
This next one is a variation of Pino Correnti’s and has its roots from the celebrations of the Spring Equinox, using only dried beans “in the expectations of the new harvest to come.”
Maccu di San ‘Giuseppi (St. Joseph’s Bean Soup)
2 quarts/2 liters water
5 ounces/145g dry fava beans
4 ounces/115g dried peas
3 ounces/85g navy beans
2 ounces/60g garbanzo beans
2 ounces/60g lentils
1 onion, diced
1 pound/450g fresh spinach
1 tablespoon/15ml fennel seeds
fronds from one bulb of fennel
1 ounce/30g sundried tomato, chopped
10 cured olives (optional)
1/2 teaspoon/2ml sea salt
1/2 teaspoon/2ml red pepper flakes
1/4 cup/60ml olive oil to drizzle
Soak all of the legumes except the lentils overnight in a large pot of water. Drain and rinse. Add all of the soaked beans to a large pot along with the onion. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and to a simmer for 1 hour. Add lentils, spinach, fennel seed, frond, tomato, and olive. Simmer for another 30 minutes or beans are all tender. Serve topped with croutons and drizzled with olive oil.