In the Liber de Coquina, one of the most important medieval Italian cookbooks, written in Latin around the end of the 13th century, we find seven recipes for fava beans: two for the flowers, three for the fresh legumes (fabae novellae), and two for the dry ones (fabae fractae).
Despite being considered by the physician Michele Savonarola a food for peasants (pasto da vilano), indeed, fava beans are very popular in the Italian Middle Ages to prepare different kinds of foods: mainly soups and pultes (preparations with mashed cereals or legumes very common starting from the Antiquity), but also pies. In addition, they are eaten fried or even raw to accompany salted cheese, a habit that Savonarola considers particularly harmful.
In the Middle Ages, we find two main kinds of fava beans, called fabe and fabe magne et albe (big and white fava beans) by the author of De Flore Dietarum, who considers them better.
The method described by the physicians and cooks to prepare fava beans is very similar to the recipe we are preparing today. First of all, it is important to husk the fava beans to remove their potential harm: bloats and difficulties to digestion. Second, the legumes must be quite young, if used fresh, and in any case, fresh fava beans are less harmful than dried ones.
The legumes must be cooked two times, writes Anonimo Toscano: first, they must boil in water, then discarded. The fava beans, strained and dried, have to be simmered again, this time in water just sufficient to cover them or in abundant water, depending on the recipe. At this point, they must be crushed with the spoon or ladle, then seasoned.
In the case of the recipe we are preparing today, the water for the second cooking is substituted with milk. We suggest using just a little quantity, because it will be added to the finished dish.
The author does not specify which spices to use, except for saffron, or the cut of meat. We chose the spices most used in the Liber de Coquina and pork tenderloin, but since there are no further cooking fats, you can use a fatter cut, such as collar, belly, or even ribs according to your taste.
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1,5 kg fresh fava beans
400 gr pork tenderloin
1 glass of milk
spices (saffron, black pepper, nutmeg, cloves)
Cut the meat into pieces, grind the spices, and soak the saffron in warm water. Cook the fava beans in water until they boil, then discard the water and strain them. Simmer them again in milk adding the meat until they are overcooked. Strain them keeping aside the milk and meat. Pound the legumes in the mortar, adding the milk and spices. Serve the mashed fava beans with the meat.
With young and fresh fava beans like the ones we used, the cooking time was around ten minutes.
Accipe fabas novellas perbullitas et colatas et pone ad coquendum cum lacte cum pecia carnium porcinarum. Et cum decocte fuerint, colla eas et in mortario tere et misce cum dicto lacte, safranum, species et sal.
Take fresh fava beans, parboiled and strained, and cook them with milk and pieces of pork. Once cooked, strain and pound them in the mortar, mixing with the milk [used to cook them], saffron, spices, and salt.
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Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes
Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-2
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
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