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 on 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 Fave dei Morti which the famed Artusi (author of the eponymous Italian cooking bible ) tells us that ” the fava cookies are made for the commemoration of the dead ..a custom which must have its origins in times of antiquity, “fava beans were used as offerings to the Fates, Pluto and Persephone, and were well known for their use in ceremonial and superstitious rites. The ancient Egyptians abstained from eating them, and would neither plant nor touch them with their hands, and their priests would not even fix their gaze on these legumes for fear of conjuring up something vile. Fava, especially the black variety, were considered funerary offerings, believed to contain the souls of the departed, and are shaped like the doors of hell. .. ” 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 those more sophisticated palates.
Trieste (once part of the Venetian regime) adopted its own version — the distinction being that the Venetian “fave” traditionally use pine nuts while the Triestine ones use almonds. From early October until late November, one can find the treats throughout the city in all the bakeries and cafes, or, should you want to make your own you can follow the recipe below:
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 1:3 (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 (to color the beans brown) and one tablespoon of sambuca in the final third (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.