Best of Sicily
Food & Wine
Map of Sicily
Frittella, or fritedda, is a dish traditionally served
in Sicily during mid-spring, when the key ingredients are harvested. It's
the kind of recipe that most people either love or hate, based entirely
on fresh but cooked green vegetables. The principal ingredients are green
fava beans and slices of artichoke. Peas are usually added as well, though
in lesser quantity than the beans; this really isn't a pea dish. The only
other ingredients necessary are extra virgin olive
oil, salt and a dash of pepper.
Simple though frittella may be, it's full of nutrients and healthy fiber.
What should be mentioned is that the ingredients must be fresh. Bottled artichoke
hearts, dried broad beans or canned peas will not do. In fact, it's the
synergism of the fresh, green ingredients (even the olive oil might be greenish
in hue) that makes frittella so delicious. Instead, dried fava beans, with their
brownish color, are used to make macco (maccu) a dense soup popular in winter.
The name itself is potentially confusing, as a number of Italian foods
are called "frittella" and "fritella" (with one "L");
these include various kinds of fried cakes. In preparing fritedda, purists
prefer thorny Sicilian artichokes for their strong flavor.
There's no doubt that these artichokes, harvested from late November into
April, have a particularly "wild" taste. It should be remembered
that only real fava beans (Vicia Faba Linnaeus) are recommended for
this recipe. This species has been cultivated in the Mediterranean region
since the earliest historical times. There exists a somewhat similar Greek
dish, served cold, with green olives substituted for the peas, and the artichokes
marinated rather than cooked. Frittella is the epitome of
Diet, and while some vegetarians oppose the use of cooked vegetables
it is difficult to imagine eating freshly-harvested artichokes raw!
Fritella has as good a claim to antiquity as any dish, and evidence suggests
that it was already known in Greek Sicily.
Here's a simple recipe: Boil the freshly-sliced hearts and tender leaves
of four medium-size artichokes for about five minutes or until partially
tender but not yet quite soft enough to eat. Add two cups of large green
fava beans (outside Italy these are sometimes sold as "green broad
beans") and about a half-cup of fresh peas. Regardless of the measure
you use, the proportions should be approximately two parts beans, one part
artichokes and one-half part peas. Boil the ingredients for about seven
minutes after adding the beans and peas, adding water if necessary. The
artichoke pieces should be soft and the fava beans should be tender enough
that the skin comes off easily with a fork, though this skin may be eaten.
Drain the remaining liquid. Mix in about six large tablespoons of extra
virgin olive oil, more if desired. Salt and pepper to taste. Fritedda is
usually served warm but serving it chilled or at room temperature might
occasionally be appropriate.
A few people are allergic to fava beans (the rare condition called favism
results from hemolytic anemia or G6PD enzyme deficiency), but otherwise almost
anybody else who enjoys green vegetables will probably like frittella.
About the Author: Roberta Gangi has written
numerous articles and one book dealing with Italian cultural and culinary
history, and a number of food and wine articles for Best of Sicily Magazine.