If you love exploring REAL Venetian sweets, you shouldn’t miss the first week in November. On All Saints Day and the weeks afterwards, bakeries and pastry stores in Venice offer traditional treats you don’t get in other seasons. Venetians have been baking a special kind of pastry, called le fave, for more than seven centuries.
These pastries are called le fave (meaning literally beans because they come bean-shaped). You might know that in Venice we have a church named after these sweets, Chiesa della Fava, and the story evolves in this area.
A legend tells how a store owner in Venice with a licence to sell beans only also sold sea salt. When representatives of the Venetian Government heard rumors, officials came to inspect his bottega near the church and asked to see his bags and stock of beans (under which he had hidden salt). Obviously, the man went into the church and asked the Holy Virgin to be saved, and the miracle worked!
The good news is that the recipe for these wonderful Venetian pastries (they’ve always been a favorite of mine!!) is easy and quick to prepare, and you can take a piece of Venice home with you. The only things you must take into account is that the recipe requires crushing pine nuts in a mortar, which takes about ten minutes, and that alchermes liquor goes into the red variety of the beans. In our family recipe we substitute it with rose syrup (home-made).
The recipe for fave comes in two variants – with and without pine nuts. Le fave veneziane require pine nuts while the second well-known variety in northern Italy, le fave triestine consists exclusively of ground almonds.
Venetian fave come in three colors – the basic one is pale yellow flavored with vanilla and sometimes anise, the dark one is flavored with cocoa powder and red fave made with alchermes.
Baking fave dei morti is not an exclusive Venetian tradition. You also find fave in Rome where they are colored green (with food coloring) in honor of the original green vegetable. Roman fave are prepared with ground almonds just as they are in Trieste. Venetian fave are smaller and come in the size of hazelnuts. Le fave triestine are as big as walnuts.
Our family recipe that I mix pine nuts and almonds, simply because it’s easier and quicker to prepare and tastes so good :-)
I suggest you taste all three colors of the fave and also take the opportunity to look at the Venetian cemetary San Michele on or before All Saints Day. Yes, there are queues on Fondamente Nove next to the vaporetto stop this weekend and on November 1. It will be rather crowded for people buy chrysanthemum from stalls there and also in front of the Church of San Michele.
The Venetian cemetary turns into a sea of white and yellow chrysantemum flowers mixed with hothouse blossoms such as white and yellow lilies. The pastel and bright yellow blossoms make for a vivid contrast against the emerald-green cypresses framing in San Michele.