FAVE DEI MORTI: ITALIAN COOKIES FOR THE DAY OF THE DEAD

 

While Halloween is a very popular day, there are other Italian holidays that take precedent this week. The 1st of November is all Saints Day (Ogni Santi), with the Day of the Dead following straight behind on November 2nd.

 

To celebrate the feast of All Saints and All Souls, it is tradition throughout Italy to eat a particular type of almond or pine nut biscuits called “fave dei morti”, literally meaning beans of the dead, the preparation of which changes slightly from region to region, sometimes only with almonds and egg whites, other times with add-ins such as dried fruit, lemon zests or spices. The Italian writer Pellegrino Artusi, in his "The Science of Cooking and the Art of Fine dining" included three recipes from central Italy and called these biscuits “fave alla romana”. 

In Venetian pastry shops and bakeries, instead, we usually find two different varieties: the Venetians and the Triestine, more colourful and different in size and texture. As you may have imagined, these biscuits recall the shape of broad beans, which, in ancient tradition, were considered a direct means to communicate with the dead, able to transfer their souls to the living. For this reason, broad beans used to be eaten after funerals not only in Rome, but also in Greece, Egypt, India and Peru, probably because of their white inside. Although the feast has much older origins, the date of the 1st of November can be traced to Pope Gregory III, who in 731-741 ordered the foundation of an oratory in Saint Peter’s for the relics of all saints, martyrs and confessors, thus moving the date from May 13 to November 1 and making it almost coincide with the pagan feast of Samhain, the Gaelic festival that marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter and that gave origin to Halloween. In Italy we don’t celebrate Halloween and in Venice the local kids get to go around their neighbourhood to ask for their trick or treat about 10 days later, on the 11th of November on the occasion of San Martino, when we eat another bigger biscuit shaped as a poor knight on a horse with his spade. 

Anyway, going back to our beans of the dead, a fun fact is that in Venice there is a church called “della fava”, built in the early 16th century and located in a small campo with the same name between Rialto and Saint Mark’s. Originally, the church was called “della Consolazione”, of the consolation, because of a nearby palace with an allegedly miraculous icon that would offer consolation to believers. But then, the locals soon started calling it “della fava” because just after the bridge opened, a pastry shop specialising in these biscuits opened and the name stuck. The beans of the dead are sold only the days that precede All Saints and are usually white, red and brown. They are quite simple to make and you can easily adapt the recipe to your taste. Almost every city uses almonds, while in Venice we use pine nuts. I’m not sure which version I prefer, what I can suggest is to use almonds if you prefer softer biscuits and pine nuts if you’d rather them crunchy. To add colour use Alchermes for a soft red tone and cocoa for brown. The important thing is for the dough to be smooth and lump-free, for the rest their preparation requires less than ten minutes. 

If you happen to be in Venice for All Saints, the pastry shops that make the nicest “favette” are Dal Mas and Pitteri in Cannaregio, Rizzardini and Targa in San Polo, while when it comes to bakeries, my favourite are always Fratelli Crosera and Colussi Il Fornaio. There is a quite notable difference in price, in fact in bakeries 100 gr of these colourful biscuit will cost you between 2,50-4 euros, while in pastry shops it’s about twice as much!!!! What I do is make a big batch at home and prepare little bags to give to my friends the days that precede the festivity and keep some to enjoy at home either dipped in coffee in the morning or, much better, dipped in sweet wine after dinner. To accompany the fave, a dry white wine like a Soave would be an excellent option, although I confess I don’t mind opting for a sweet wine, like the local Recioto della Valpolicella (a sweet red wine produced near Verona, characterised by a round and velvety perfume, a must try in our region) or for a German Eiswein (ice-wine); men, instead, go directly for the grappa! 

At this point, there is nothing left for me to do than wish you a happy long weekend and to say buon appetito! Talk to you soon! 

RECIPE: 

INGREDIENTS: 

150 gr pine nuts (or almonds) 

100 gr sugar 

100 gr Italian 00 flour 

10 gr cinnamon powder 

20 gr butter 

1 egg 

1/2 coffee cup Alchermes 

1/2 coffee cup cocoa powder 

lemon zest 

METHOD: 

1) Pre-heat oven at 170° 

2) Mix the pine nuts in a mixer until they look like flour, combine with the sugar and sift, then add flour, cinnamon, the softened butter, the eggs and the lemon zests. 

3) Mix well using your hands until you get a compact and smooth dough with no lumps that you will roll lengthwise and divide in three smaller balls. 

4) Add cocoa to one, Alchermes to the other, knead until they reach a uniform colour without overworking them and then roll and cut your small biscuits. 

5) Grease some parchment paper and bake for about 15 minutes. When ready, if you like, roll in sugar. 

Excellent with a glass of sweet white wine, like the Recioto della Valpolicella

Thank you Nicoletta at https://www.naturallyepicurean.org for this great blog post.