Sunday was supposed to be another feast-free day, but the temperatures were dropping and I had a hankering for a fabada asturiana. The fabada is to Asturias what the paella is to Valencia. This will make sense to you if you are in any way familiar with Spanish cuisine; if not, just skip it.
It’s a hearty bean stew which, when made in the right amount, can provide nourishment for days on end. Just where the fabada came from is a matter of debate, and the truth hasn’t ever been fully established; if it ever is. Slow cooking is prevalent throughout most of the central and northern parts of Spain with an untold number of variations made with a whole slew of ingredients. Some say it was introduced into the local gastronomy via the French who were making their pilgrimage to Santiago to Compostela. The reason for this being that the region around Toulouse is known for its famous, because everything the French do tends to end up being famous, cassoulet. This dish is also elaborated with beans and a wide stock of game and pork and other creatures that provide a fatty flavor. It has also occurred to others that maybe the wind blew in the other direction. Maybe it was the religious Frenchmen who discovered the dish during the journey through Spain and brought it with them to their homeland. It just could be. It would be the first time the neighbors from the north ran off with the fame of others’ doings. Mayonnaise, often cited as a French sauce, the spelling helps cement that view, is actually said to have been invented on the Spanish Island of Menorca in a town called Mahon then taken to France in the 18th Century after they expelled the English from there. At least that’s the story.
One thing is for sure, the fabe beans, the long white runner beans, are originally from Central America, so their consumption can’t have gone back that far. In fact, there is no mention of the dish until the turn of the 20th Century, so, despite its rapid rise to fame and the urge to make it more venerable than is reasonably possible, this dish is actually quite recent and probably not a true rural dish but something concocted in the cities.
Having said that, today it holds a special place in the winter diet. What goes into the fabada? Naturally the faba bean (known as fabe in Aasturian), which is so dry that you need to soak it in water the night before to ensure it acquires the right softness. You also add thick slabs of bacon, paprika-packed chorizo, and the sturdy Asturian black pudding (not any kind, like the Burgos version, will do). Then you slow cook it for hours and hours. Add a few cloves of garlic and a bay leave for more flavor.
Then, buy some fresh bread, and eat it next to a window so you can enjoy the hot meal with a view of winter outside. Unbeatable.