Sicilian Fava Bean and Fennel Soup (Macco di fave e finochietto)

Sicilian fava bean soup topped with fennel
Sicilian fava bean soup with fennel (Macco di fave). The Picture Pantry/Getty Images
  • 3 hrs 15 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins,
  • Cook: 3 hrs
  • Yield: 4-6 servings
Ratings (4)

This velvety, comforting puree is a traditional, rustic Sicilian dish with roots that go all the way back to Ancient Rome and Greece. It's made from dried and crushed fava beans and wild fennel. It was most likely eaten at the beginning of the day, to bolster strength for the day's work in the fields. 

Macco (or " maccu" in Sicilian dialect), the name of this dish, derives from the Latin word macero (to soften or tenderize). 

Over time, this hearty peasant soup came to be linked with the festivities of the Feast Day of San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph), Sicily's patron saint, celebrated every year on March 19 in many parts of Sicily and featuring dishes incorporating fava beans, which are closely associated with San Giuseppe and considered tokens of good luck.

Leftover maccu soup can be poured into a shallow bowl, left until firm, then cut into strips, dredged in flour, and fried in olive oil till golden brown and crisp; a frugal way to transform any leftovers into another tasty dish. 

What You'll Need

  • 1 pound dried fava beans
  • 1 onion (peeled)
  • 2 carrots (peeled)
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch of fennel fronds (the feathery, dark green part attached to the top of fennel bulbs)
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

How to Make It

Soak the dried fava beans for 24 hours in enough cold water to cover. Rinse them well and place them in a large stockpot with 8 cups of water together with the whole onion, carrots, celery stalk, and fennel fronds. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, add the salt, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer for about 3 hours or until the beans are very tender. Remove the onion, carrot, celery, and fennel fronds and discard them (you can keep the carrots and add them back in to be pureed with the cooked beans if desired).

Drain the beans, reserving the cooking water.

In another large stockpot, heat 2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil over medium-low heat, then add the garlic and saute until lightly golden. Add the drained beans and some of the reserved cooking water. (You may optionally add the carrots back in at this point, as well.) Using a handheld immersion blender, puree the beans until they're very smooth, adding some of the cooking water as necessary to adjust the consistency. Adjust seasoning with salt (as necessary) to taste. Serve drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Variations and Serving Suggestions:

This is the simplest version of the recipe, but you may also add Swiss Chard, beet greens, or escarole during the last minutes of cooking the beans and puree them all together.

Typically this soup is served with only a drizzle of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil on top, but you may also top it with some freshly ground black pepper, fennel fronds, dried fennel (anise) seeds, finely chopped scallion greens, dried red chili pepper flakes, or grated Pecorino Romano cheese. 

A traditional variation, for a heartier soup that can serve as a one-pot meal, is to add pieces of spaghetti, broken into shorter bits about 2-3 inches long, after pureeing and cook the pasta in the puree until tender.