Macco is the new hummus
Hummus, the ubiquitous chickpea cream, has many qualities. Versatile, healthy, trendy and yet tasty. Macco is another legume cream. Instead of chickpeas, broad beans form the basis. Result? A versatile, healthy and tasty cream that outwits hummus.
Macco is a very old recipe, or better, a very old way of preparing broad beans. The ancient Greek are first to mention it. Aristophanes in his plays ‘The frogs points out that Hercules had macco before dedicating himself to the labours. As it happens, the Romans came up with the name. ‘Maccare’, a verb meaning to squash, because that is what happens when prepare it, pulping broad beans. Especially popular in Southern Italy where various regions contest the authenticity. The town of Raffadali in the province of Agrigento, Sicily crowned itself king of macco.
You can’t have macco without broad beans. Traditionally planted after the olive harvest in November this legume grows during the winter. A cultivation that has a long history and agricultural background. It enriches the terrain with nitrogen. In Sicily people harvest broad beans starting in February and continue to do so all the way to April. That’s the gap between the coastal cities and the mountainous inland.
Fresh and dry
Fresh picked broad beans are tender and often eaten raw. A peasant version of a bag of crisps. And you may throw your bag away when finished. What is not eaten fresh is dried, Some beans are for sowing, most for eating. They are either left as they come or peeled (decorticated). It is the latter version you will use to make macco. The whole beans are excellent in soups or salads.
This version is made with fresh broad beans. As it goes, tenderness will be determine the final result. When the beans are in an advanced state of development, they have to be decorticated. Immerse your beans in boiling water for about three minutes, then drain and place them in cold water. By squeezing them between your thumb and index finger the shell comes of easily. It is well worth the effort.
Variation on the macco theme
It’s all about the beans. What really changes among the various schools of thought is the thickness. Some come up with the consistency of mashed potatoes, other with an almost soup-like version. Chefs often pass the puree through a fine sieve to obtain an even creamier result. Ideal for fancy plate decoration.
How is macco served?
It can be served as a side dish. A drizzle of olive oil and it’s ready to go. It makes an excellent starter as well as a wonderful condiment for pasta. Use short pasta with macco.
Make sure to prepare at least double of what you’ll be serving. The leftovers are the basis for a notorious transformation. After sitting for a day -or two- in the fridge, it can be turned in an amazing finger food. The starch from the pasta and beans allow you to cut nice cubes out of the left over pasta. One may coat them with egg and breadcrumb or fry as it comes.
Serve them warm and with sparkling wine. A treat your guests will appreciate for sure.
Macco may be spread on small toasts and served along the fried version.
Do not keep the puree for more than three days. After all, it is not all that hard to prepare a new batch.
Traditionally macco comes with vegetables such as chicory, chard or green cabbage. Their bitterness contrasts wonderfully with the smoothness of the macco. Top day: Saint Joseph on the March 19. Wild fennel and macco are betrothed. Unfortunately wild fennel grows only in southern Italy and can not be transported or kept for more than a couple of days. An excellent substitute is ‘sweet’ fennel as sold all around the world. A more daring solution is toasting fennel seeds and crushing them right before serving your macco. Rosemary goes wonderfully well too.
Luigi Salvo, the wine doctor gave us great advice on what wine to match this dish. Macco recalls spring and freshness. Even when prepared with dried beans, spring is never far off. A grillo-based sparkling wine for example. It enhances the sweetness of the beans. Especially successful with fried macco. Maybe a trifle more classic but matching perfectly are a young grillo wine or a caricante from the Etna region.