Le Fave dei Morti (“The Fava Beans of the Dead”) sounds particularly well-suited to this time of year, now that we’re coming up to Halloween and the Giorno dei Morti, or Day of the Dead. Each year, starting in October, piles of pink, white and brown round treats fill the windows of the local bakeries. These are the the Fave dei Morti which the famed Artusi (author of the cooking bible of Italy) tells us in his “Science in Cooking and the Art of Eating Good” that “sweet beans are made for the commemoration of the dead ..a custom which must have its origins in times of antiquity, as fava beans were offered to the Fates, Hades and Persephone … ”
The ancient Egyptians believed that black fava beans held the souls of the dead while ancient Greeks and Romans consumed fava beans as part of their funeral rituals and threw them over the shoulders of mourners to honor the dead. From those pagan banquets, the tradition (or superstition) was adopted into the Christian rites of the poor. But it is said that the traditions of the Nobility had to be richer and so a creative pastry chef transformed the tradition of the lowly fava beans into a sweet treat to appeal to their sophisticated palates. Trieste (once part of the Venetian regime) adopted their own version — the distinction being the Venetian ones traditionally use pine nuts while the Triestine ones use almonds.
100gr nuts – Pine or Almond
3 egg whites
1 Tablespoon Maraschino juice (for pink beans)
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder & 1 Tablespoon Sambuca (for brown beans)
1 Tablespoon Sambuca (for white beans)
Finely chop the nut of your choice together with the sugar in the ratio of 1 to 3 (to get about 20 beans: 100 grams of nuts to 300 grams of sugar). Then add three egg whites. Proceed as follows: divide the dough into three parts, in the first one add a tablespoon of maraschino juice ( to color the beans pink), in the second a tablespoon of cocoa powder and one tablespoon of sambuca (the beans will color brown) in third only sambuca so they will remain white. Work the dough until the colors are solid and the dough is firm (there are those who say it’s better to let the dough rest for a few hours), then roll out the balls to the size of a marble. Place in a preheated oven at 250F, for 15 minutes – when cracks appear, they are ready.