Sicilian Farmers Turn Back The Clock And Return To Ancient Grains | WBEZ
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Sicilian Farmers Turn Back The Clock And Return To Ancient Grains

Sicily was once known as the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. The Romans depended on the island for a steady supply of grains, but many of those ancient variety of grains had all but disappeared. 

Now, there’s a new movement to bring them back. These ancient varieties have all sorts of environmental as well as health benefits. 

Elizabeth Minchilli writes about Italian food culture. Her most recent book is Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City. She joins us to talk about what’s driving the comeback.

She also gave us this recipe for Fave, Pecorino and Asparagus Pasta. The pasta is made from an ancient grain called tumminia

Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 4-5


2 kilos / 4 pounds of fave in pods
1 bunch of thin asparagus
1 big leek (about 1 cup chopped)
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more
1 clove garlic
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 cup mild young pecorino cheese, grated on big holes of the grater
½ kilo / 1 pound bussiate (or any whole grain pasta)


  1. Take the fave beans out of their pods. I don’t take them out of their skins, but if yours are very old and big, with tough skins you might want to. (but I never do)
  2. Trim the tough part off of the asparagus stalks and cut into 2 inch pieces.
  3. Finely dice the leek and garlic.
  4. In the meantime pour the olive oil into a pan large enough to hold all of the pasta. Heat and add the leek and onion, with the salt and pepper and let cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the fave beans, and a half cup of water. Cover and let cook until the fave beans are done. The timing will vary depending on the size of your fave beans. Early in the season (now) the beans should still be quite small and fresh, so this should only take about ten minutes or so. If the water dries out, add a bit more. Turn off heat when done.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add pasta.
  7. Add the asparagus to the fave, turn on heat and cook until they are just done. Do this just before you serve the pasta to retain their green color. You can add a bit of the pasta cooking water if it seems dry.
  8. When pasta is about a minute from being done, drain the pasta, retaining a cup of the pasta cooking water.
  9. Add pasta to the fave mixture, stirring and adding the reserved water a bit at a time, to finish cooking the pasta and letting the flavors meld.
  10. Take off heat and stir in ¾ of the cheese, a bit at a time.
  11. Serve topped with a bit more pecorino and fresh pepper.

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