Around this time of year, kitchens and bakeries alike are getting ready to prepare symbolic biscotti and other sweets for Ognissanti, All Saints Day, on November 1 and Tutti i Morti, also known as All Souls Day or the Day of the Dead, on November 2. It's a time for honoring relatives and ancestors that have passed away.
It's said that the night between these two days, the dead come back to frequent the places they did when they were alive–and practically every region in Italy has their own way of celebrating this. In Campania, a bucket of water is left out for the thirsty souls, while in Sardegna, the table isn’t cleared after dinner to give the spirits a place to eat during their big night out on the town.
Biscotti and other dolci dei morti (sweets of the dead) play a role as offerings to the dead after their long and weary travel back to the world of the living. Each region has their favorites, but the most well-known gives a nod to a tradition that dates back to Ancient Rome, where beans were symbolically offered to the dead or even served at funerals.
Fave dei morti, beans of the dead, have nothing to do with beans anymore; they are macaroon-like cookies made in various regions around Italy.
There are as many variations as cooks and depending on the region you'll find a difference in the spices, the proportions and the shape, for starters. It can be made without the wheat flour (easily becoming gluten-free by replacing the weight of the flour with almond meal), with the addition of ground pine nuts, with unpeeled almonds (you'll get that speckled-brown look), with just the egg whites (or indeed just a yolk), beaten until fluffy, instead of a whole egg, or with lemon zest or orange blossom water instead of spices.
In the north, Trieste's fave are famous and always recognisable by their pastel hues–the mixture is divided into three, with one part left plain white, one part made mocha-coloured with cocoa, one part rosy-pink with Alkermes (more traditionally) or red food coloring. In some parts of the Marche aniseed is popular, or a local, usually homemade aniseed-flavoured liqueur called Mistrà.
Pellegrino Artusi himself published three variations of Fave dei Morti (which he calls “Roman beans”) recipes in his 1891 cookbook. This recipe below is based on his second recipe as well as the typical Fave dei Morti found in the area around Ancona in the Marche, where they like a shot of rum in their biscotti. The mixture should be smooth and compact and easy to roll. Marchegiani make their fave into round balls, squashed with a thumb or other utensil, rather than oval shaped. These are meant to be crunchy (read–good for dipping into some vermouth or dessert wine) but you can find a variety of fave dei morti that are soft–the all-almond versions and the Trieste fave are usually soft. —Emiko
- Makes about 24
(200 grams) almonds or almond meal
(100 grams) flour
(100 grams) sugar
(30 grams) butter
- If using whole almonds, peel the almonds by blanching them first, then pop the skins off. Let them air dry or place in a warm oven until dry, then blitz in a food processor until extremely fine and it resembles sand. If using pre-prepared almond meal, head straight to the next step.
- Combine all the ingredients together until you have a smooth, compact dough. If it is too crumbly, add some warm water, a very little bit at a time until the dough comes together.
- Roll walnut-sized pieces of dough into balls and place on a lined baking tray. Flatten each ball into a disc and bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes or until dry to the touch and hardened but not too browned. Once cool, keep in an air tight container. These go very well with coffee or dessert wine.