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Cookery: Puglian feasts. By Elisabeth Luard

Blog | By Elisabeth Luard | Apr 30, 2024

This is just the thing for the Lenten Fast. The traditional beans-and-greens dishes of Puglia, Italy’s poorest region, provide a lesson in frugality and ingenuity.

A period of abstention from meat and other good things (including wine) in the run-up to Easter was imposed on congregations by savvy Church Fathers at a time when the fields of the northern hemisphere were barren and winter store cupboards were almost empty. It is as practical and sensible now as ever.

Fave e cicoria

Bitter greens such as chicory, endive and sprouting broccoli – field-grown or from the wild – are eaten with a soft-scooping purée of dried broad beans in much the ELISABETH LUARD same way as the Middle Eastern hummus. Split peas, green or yellow, can replace the beans. Serves 4 as a dip, 6 as a soup.

250g dried, ready-skinned broad beans (fava), soaked overnight

1 large floury potato, peeled and diced

Sea salt

About 100ml olive oil

About 1kg winter greens, rinsed and shredded

2-3 garlic cloves, skinned and slivered

1⁄2 tsp chilli flakes (more if you like)

Drain the beans. Bring them to the boil in enough water to cover generously, skimming off the grey foam as it rises. Add the diced potato, salt lightly, bubble up, turn down the heat, cover loosely and simmer until the beans soften completely – 45 minutes to 2 hours – stirring regularly and adding boiling water as necessary. The result should be a smooth, soft purée. Stir in half the olive oil and reheat gently.

Meanwhile, heat the rest of the olive oil in a small pan and toss in the shredded greens with the garlic, chilli flakes and salt, lid loosely, turn down the heat and cook for 4-5 minutes, till the greens are just tender but not mushy.

Serve the beans and greens separately, with bread for scooping and mopping. Possible accompaniments: slivered red onion marinated in wine vinegar; a plain tomato sauce with a stirring of pitted black olives.

Ciceri e tria

This surprisingly delicious combination makes the best of limited ingredients. A soupy dish of chickpeas flavoured with celery (a venerable pot-herb which grows wild in the region) is finished with tria, Puglia’s fresh no-egg ribbon pasta – some of it fried crisp as a topping. Serves 4 as a vegetarian main dish.

350g chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water

1 medium onion, diced

1-2 celery stalks and leaves, chopped 1-2 bay leaves

1-2 dried chillis

About 100ml olive oil

Sea salt

250g fresh tagliatelle or other ribbon pasta

Drain the chickpeas and transfer to a roomy pot with twice their volume of cold water. Add the onion, celery, bay leaves and chilli. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat, lid loosely and simmer for 1-3 hours, adding boiling water as needed to keep the dish soupy, till the chickpeas are perfectly tender. Stir in half the olive oil and bubble up to emulsify the broth. Taste and add salt.

To finish, stir two thirds of the pasta into the soupy chickpeas and bubble up again for 4-5 minutes, adding more boiling water if necessary to ensure plenty of broth, till the pasta is perfectly soft. Meanwhile heat the remaining oil in a small frying pan, drop in the rest of the pasta ribbons a handful at a time, and remove with a draining spoon as soon as they puff and brown (a minute or two). Ladle into bowls, and top each serving with a hank of crisp pasta ribbons. People won’t believe it’s not bacon – a useful trick if you don’t want to include meat in any pasta dish.