The concept of a "last meal" is one that a surprising number of people don't enjoy exploring. Whether deemed silly, impossible or just downright annoying, it's a question that—about a year or two ago—sprung up frequently popular culture (see: the blog/book My Last Supper), though by now it has more or less faded into the background.
As for myself, I've always been intrigued by the psychology of the last meal concept. Do you opt for the lavish pinnacle of haute gastronomy? Your favorite meal from childhood? A rich, calorie-laden dish that you'd never consume if you were to go on living? The decision reflects more about our values, desires and, well, appetites than perhaps we're interested to share publicly.
I had always assumed that some variation of the Italian "feast of the seven fishes" would be my chosen last meal, especially after the fortunate experience of enjoying a truly extraordinary version of this feast at Franny's in Brooklyn. But then I traveled to Puglia and encountered a meal so simple, so rustic and so utterly comforting in its ordinary-ness that the thought just spontaneously popped into my head: "This—this is my last meal."
If I am to die the way I hope I will—completely unaware that it is coming—then this is my ideal (accidental) last meal. Bitter greens have always been among my favorites, and none moreso than chicory or puntarelle—both of which work beautifully in this dish. As for the dried favas, they are an extraordinary treat in their almost potato-like creaminess. Finished with a drizzle of extraordinary olive oil (there's a last meal splurge for you) and served with a hunk of crusty bread for sopping up the remnants, it's the platonic ideal of cucina povera. Use high quality ingredients, and you'll find it's fit for a king.
Fave e Cicoria (Fava Bean Purée with Wilted Chicory)
Ingredients (serves 4 as main dish)
- 8 oz dried Italian fava beans, pre-soaked for a minimum of 4 hours
- 1 large head of chicory or puntarelle
- 2 garlic cloves
- 4-6 anchovy filets
- 1/2 cup high quality olive oil (I like an herbal, bright, spicy oil for this dish)
- sea salt, to taste
- roughly ground black pepper, to taste
- optional: parmesan rind or 1/4 cup of roughly chopped parmesan
- optional: crusty bread
- Rinse the soaked fava beans and add to a medium-to-large stockpot. Barely cover the beans with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming the foam off the top of the water.
- Once there is no longer any foam in your pot, generously salt the water (about 3/4 tsp) and continue to cook the beans, stirring occasionally over medium heat until they dissolve into a loose mashed-potato like consistency (45-60 minutes). (Note: You can add a parmesan rind or roughly cut chunks at this point in the process to add additional flavor. Also, keep an eye on your beans and add a touch more water, as necessary, to prevent scorching.)
- While the beans are cooking, wash and chop your greens into 1-inch segments. Shake or towel-dry.
- Heat a cash iron or other heavy-duty pan and add 1-2 tbsp of olive oil. (If you're opening a fresh can of anchovies, you can just use the oil from that can.) Slice your garlic and add to the heated oil, along with your anchovies, breaking up the filets as they begin to cook. Turn off the heat and reserve your garlic/anchovies in the pan.
- Once your beans are sufficiently mushy, grab a hand blender and blend about 1/4 cup olive oil and freshly cracked pepper into the beans, creating a puree. (If you used a parmesan rind, remove and discard the remnants of the rind before blending.) If your puree is too loose (it should be about the thickness of freshly cooked polenta), continue to cook over medium-low heat until thickened.
- As your beans are cooking off their excess moisture (as necessary), reheat your garlic/anchovy pan and add your washed greens, tossing until wilted, but still retaining a touch of crunch.
- To serve, ladle about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of bean puree into a wide-mouthed bowl. Top with sauteed greens. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Have some crusty bread standing by the sop up the remnants.