Fanesca is a labor of love. There is no way around it. Ideally, it would take several days to prepare, unless you’re a spontaneous, idea-obsessed cook like yours truly who gets fixated on an idea that absolutely must manifest within 24 hours. Then you cut corners, lovingly of course.
You see, I was voyaging to the Big Apple for the Just Food Conference, admittedly a pretense for seeing two of my dearest friends Farideh and Harrison. We had planned an international feast with our hosts, my travel-mate and Ithaca sister, Shoshi, and several other new pals. Each eater would share a favorite recipe from the place they spent the most time living abroad. For me, this is Ecuador, where I lived for two years working with grassroots farm-to-city food movements. Oh!, land of high peaks that stole my heart. For Farideh, this was New Zealand from where she just returned after a seven year marriage to Lake Taupo.
At Easter time, fanesca appears in every home and eatery across Ecuador. Every cook stirring the pot has his or her own special recipe depending on what ingredients or geographic inspiration are readily available, from Amazon to Andes to Coast. Nearly a year after I moved to Ecuador in 2007, I discovered (and promptly became fascinated with) this holiday dish steeped in culture and flavor. My beautiful Ecuadorian family – Martha, Ramiro and Michelle – prepared fanesca in their home, with a lively crowd of family to share the pot. Shoshi fittingly named this a “chowder.” Fanesca blends the most astonishing medley of foods, from codfish to squash and peanuts. It celebrates the variety of legumes (beans) native to the Andes.
The recipe Martha sent me called for traditional Ecuadorian ingredients like habas verdes (plump, tender lima beans), choclo (toothsome, sweet, bulging corn kernals) and zambo (an enormous, semi-neutral squash that can take weeks to hack away at in the kitchen). Ithaca’s markets are lacking in Ecuadorian fare, but the substitutions I made with butternut squash and a variety of canned beans (to speed up the preparation) were stupendous understudies. If you read this today, start preparing now. This is worth gracing your Easter table tomorrow – a dish your family can truly honor.
- Codfish - 1 lb. codfish
- Butternut squash - 6 cups, diced
- Olive oil - 2 tablespoons olive oil to coat squash
- Cabbage - 2.5 cups, shredded
- Butter - 1 stick
- Yellow onion - 2 cups, diced
- Rice - 2 cups cooked extra-mushy rice
- Garlic - 4 tablespoons, minced
- Oregano - 1 tablespoon
- Cumin - 1 tablespoon, ground
- Sea salt - 1 teaspoon
- Peanuts - 1 1/2 cup, roasted peanuts
- Milk - 4 cups
- Habas verdes - 2 (15-ounce) cans
- Red kidney beans - 1/2 (15-ounce) can
- Cannellini beans - 1/2 (15-ounce) can
- Sweet corn - 1 cup frozen sweet corn
- Eggs - 5 hard boiled eggs
- Cilantro - 2 tablespoons, minced
- *Note: When buying canned beans, make sure the ingredient list only contains the specified bean and water (and possibly salt). Look for BPA-free cans.
- 24-48 hours before preparing the soup, begin soaking the codfish in water (completely submerged), changing the water every 6-8 hours.
- Drain the codfish. Using your hands, shred the codfish away from any skin and bones so you have lots of small pieces of fish. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 425. Toss the diced butternut squash with the olive oil, and roast for 25 minutes until fork tender.
- While the squash is roasting, put the cabbage in a pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a biol and boil for about 7 minutes until the cabbage is tender. Drain the water.
- When the squash is cooked, puree it in a food processor, with a potato masher or an immersion blender. Add the cabbage and puree again.
- Put the stick of butter in a large pot over medium-high. When the butter is almost melted, add the onion and saute for about 3 minutes until the onions becomes translucent. Add the garlic and continue to saute for a couple minutes.
- Add the rice and mash it in with the onions and garlic, creating a very thick mash.
- Add the pureed squash and cabbage, 1 cup of milk and the oregano, cumin and salt. Simmer the soup on low heat for a few minutes, and then blend or mash with the tools you have.
- While the soup is continuing to simmer, put the peanuts and 1 cup of milk in another small pot and bring it to a boil. Add the peanuts and milk to the soup pot and let the soup continue to simmer.
- In the same pot you just boiled the peanuts, add 2 cups of milk and the codfish. Bring the codfish to a rolling boil and reduce the heat to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the milk and saltfish to the soup.
- Add the beans and corn to the soup and stir thoroughly. Let the soup simmer for about 10 minutes with a lid covering the pot.
- Serve a ladle of soup and top it with about 2-3 slices of hard-boiled eggs per person and a sprinkle of cilantro.
Allergens: dairy, eggs, fish, peanuts