There’s a certain type of person you always see with a bowl of creamy, dreamy pasta or a rich, flaky croissant in front of her tiny perfect little figure. Either she’s genetically gifted, or she claims to be more satisfied on a small portion of something fully indulgent than a larger portion of the lightened version. I am neither supernaturally thin nor can I satisfy my appetite on just a few bites, no matter how much fat and flour is packed in there.
Maybe if I were born Italian things would be different (apparently passing for Italian in coloring and facial features is not sufficient.) Because real, authentic Italian recipes do not skimp on the carbs or olive oil. True, olive oil is a good fat, and last week I hinted that you shouldn’t fear the good fats. But it’s wise to be careful. For me, there’s a limit to how much of this good thing I can tolerate.
(Sidenote: have you “Liked” Cara’s Cravings on Facebook yet? Do it now! I promise bonus recipes, extra foodie discussion, and highlighted reader favorites.)
Like in the recipe for fave e chicoria first served to me by my husband’s step-cousin’s wife’s mother (you follow?) who happened to be visiting from Puglia, the southeastern most region of Italy located in the heel of the boot. Later, I located the recipe in the cook book that my husband’s step-cousin and his wife gave us as a wedding gift – not coincidentally, Flavors of Puglia by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.
The recipe calls for just four simple ingredients: dried fava beans, salt, olive oil, and any bitter, leafy green you can get your hands on. But when you eat it, you’ll swear it’s a whole lot more. Fava beans, after being dried out, reconstituted, and then boiled in water for about an hour, break down into a rich, creamy consistency brimming with flavors that never touched the pot. I swear I can taste deliciously potent garlic and briny artichokes. It’s the perfect base for a fruity, aromatic olive oil (you’ll want to break out the good stuff) and earthy, tender braised greens. If this dish taught me one thing, it’s that dried fava deserve just as much attention as the fresh fava which are always all the rage in early Spring cooking magazines and farmers’ markets.
Don’t misunderstand: by it’s simple nature, this dish is already far healthier than the typical American gunk served up with some far-fetched notion of Italian slapped on. (Just wait ’till I tell you how I really feel about “Italian” food served in the US.) But as I was saying, the Italians don’t hold back when it comes to olive oil, and this recipe, slated to serve six, calls for a half cup. That’s eight tablespoons, and at 120 calories per tablespoon… well, that clearly outweighs the caloric contribution from all of the other ingredients combined (no pun intended.) You might not think that sounds so bad when divided up among six servings, but that’s where the Italians must be stingy, or very self-controlled. To me, one sixth of this recipe looks like an appetizer to a first course. And despite all that olive oil, I wouldn’t count on it to hold me over very long. (I’m intentionally leaving out the suggestion that you serve this with good, crusty bread, like a real Italian would. We already established that I’m not one!)
The first time I prepared this recipe at home, I took the liberty of cutting back the olive oil to only six tablespoons and serving it up as four potions; this worked out to four hundred calories per serving. Not bad. In fact, it was great. So good that my husband was asking for it again just a couple days later. This was perfect timing, since it was fresh on my mind (and palette) as I thought about ways to bulk up the meal. I confess, I still found one-fourth of the recipe to be on the small side.
I had to add some sort of Cara’s Cravings twist: a way to bring this traditional dish up to my modern healthy chic standards of bigger portions and higher nutrition for minimum caloric expenditure. Enter the rutabaga (otherwise known as the Swedish turnip, or rapa svedese in Italian).
Often overlooked and underrated, this hearty winter root vegetable has a pretty yellow flesh that is earthy and just slightly sweet. It’s a great source of fiber, vitamins and anti-oxidants, and I could add a whole pound of it for only forty additional calories per serving. So that’s what I did. Not only did the rutabaga add more fork-fulls to my bowl, it also introduced an extra layer of complimentary flavor to this delicious meal. Win-win. With a little less fat and an extra serving of veggie thrown in, this is our perfect version of rustic Italian comfort food.
Fave, Rape e Cicoria (Fava and Rutabaga Puree with Bitter Greens)
Adapted from Flavors of Puglia, Nancy Harmon Jenkins
1/2 pound dried, peeled fava bean*
salt, to taste
1 lb peeled, diced rutabaga
salt, to taste
6 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
1 pound bitter greens*, such as dandelion, broccoli rabe, collards, or turnip greens
Rinse the fava and place in a clean bowl. Add enough water to cover the beans by a few inches. Let them soak for eight hours, or overnight.
Drain and rinse the beans and place in a large pot. If you have a clay pot, this is a great time to break it out (assuming you have a gas stove, or a heat diffuser for your electric stove.) Otherwise, a regular saucepan or dutch oven is fine. Add enough water to cover the beans by a few inches. Place on the stove over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil.
When the beans first begin to boil, they will give off a foam. Skim the foam and continue to boil, skimming again until most of the foam subsides. Add a large pinch of salt and the rutabaga, and continue to boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. You may need to add more water if the vegetables start to become dry before they are tender. After about an hour, the beans will have dissolved into a thick, creamy consistency and the rutabaga should be tender. Most of the water should be evaporated; if not, continue to cook uncovered until the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat. Drizzle in three tablespoons of olive oil, and beat with a hand mixer or immersion blender until smooth. Taste and add salt if desired.
While the fava and rutabaga are cooking, wash and chop your greens. With the water still clinging to them, place the greens in a large pot. Set the heat to medium-high, cover, and cook for about 25-35 minutes, until wilted down and very tender. Add a splash of water if they begin to scorch on the bottom. When the greens are finished, drain any remaining water, return to the saucepan, and toss with the remaining three tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and keep warm until ready to serve.
Divide the fava and rutabaga puree into four bowls, and top with the the warm, tender greens.
Servings Per Recipe: 4
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat: 21.5 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 60.3 mg
Total Carbs: 46.1 g
Dietary Fiber: 19.9 g
Protein: 19.1 g
Fava beans are also known as broad beans. It is best to find ones that are already shelled; otherwise use a pound of dried fava beans in their shell and peel them after soaking overnight. I found them already shelled in a local Mediterranean market, but it appears that Goya makes them too so you can probably find them in your regular supermarket or a Latin market.
Trader Joe’s sells a 1-lb bag of “mixed southern greens” containing mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens and spinach. The greens are already washed and chopped. It’s the perfect thing to use for this dish.