Ligurian Fava Bean and Lettuce Soup

Zuppa Ligure di Fave e Lattuga

When I was discussing fava with Danilo Solari in Portofino (see Marò), another fragrant specialty of the cooking of Liguria came up, this soup with fresh fava and Romaine lettuce. It is a textbook example of the Riviera’s culinary style, combining gentleness and boldness, gentle in the sweetness of the lettuce and the fresh fava beans, bold in the fragrance of the marjoram alighting on the soup just as you are about to bring it to the table.

Youth and freshness, always of consequence when cooking with vegetables and herbs, become particularly significant here. Like that other delicacy that comes in a pod, early peas, fava is full of sugar and juice when young and freshly picked, but starchy as it matures. Look for slenderness in the pods, an indication that it encloses youthfully small beans, and a clear light green color unblemished by black spots. If you can, open a pod and taste the fava. It should be dewy, not floury. As for the marjoram, need I insist? Fresh.

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Ingredients

  • A large head of Romaine lettuce
  • 2 to 2½ pounds fresh fava beans
  • 1 medium potato
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • cups very thinly sliced onion
  • 2 cups homemade meat broth or 1 bouillon cube dissolved in 2 cups lukewarm water
  • Salt
  • Black pepper ground fresh
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • ½ teaspoon chopped marjoram

Method

  1. Detach all the leaves from the lettuce head, discarding any bruised or withered ones. Take a thin slice off the butt end of the root and cut the remainder into thin rounds. Wash leaves and root in two or three changes of cold water, then cut the leaves into very narrow shreds. They should amount to approximately cups.
  2. Shell the fava beans, discarding the pods. If the beans are rather large, pare away their thin but tough green skin. You should have about 2 cups of beans. Wash them in cold water.
  3. Peel the potato, wash it, and cut it into four wedges.
  4. Put the olive oil and onion in a large saucepan, turn the heat on to medium high, and cook the onion, stirring three or four times, until it becomes colored a pale gold. Add the shredded lettuce with the sliced lettuce root and cook for about 1 minute; then add the potato and the fava beans and cook for a few seconds, turning over all ingredients. Add the broth or dissolved bouillon cube, turn the heat down to very low, and cover the pot.
  5. Cook at a very gentle but steady simmer until the fava beans are tender; about 30 minutes, depending on the youth and freshness of the beans. Retrieve the potato wedges using a slotted spoon, mash them on a plate with a fork, then return them to the pot. Add salt and liberal grindings of pepper, stir thoroughly, and cook for another 5 minutes or so.
  6. Off heat, just before serving, swirl in the grated Parmesan and the marjoram. Taste and correct for salt and pepper.

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