The Greeks and then the Romans were the first to use beans for cooking, as attested in the comedy The Frogs by Aristophanes and in the works of Pliny
According to the tradition, ‘u paìsi du maccu (i.e. the village of the maccu) would be Raffadali, in the province of Agrigento. To the inhabitants of this village we owe therefore the spread of a Sicilian dish that is currently included in the list of traditional Italian food products of the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies: pasta with the maccu, a cream of beans dressed with olive oil and black pepper. Its history is actually complex and has its roots in the Sicily of 5000 years ago, when the trade between Greece and Anatolia brought the first bean crops to the island.
The Greeks and then the Romans were the first to use beans for cooking, as attested in the comedy The Frogs by Aristophanes (in which Hercules is said to have been raised with bean soups) and in the works of Pliny, where it is described as a “sacred dish of archaic religion”. In those days some people considered it a dish with aphrodisiac properties, while others believed that it hid the souls of the dead in its seeds, which is why it was eaten on specific occasions of the year only.
In Sicily, on the other hand, its use was much more frequent and in the fifteenth century it even led to the invention of an ad hoc container for its preparation called “ad opus mirandi maccum”, i.e. designed to satisfy the curiosity of those who wanted to admire its creation. A similar expression in Latin should not surprise us, since the etymology of this term is due precisely to the period of Roman domination, in whose language it meant to crush or to reduce to pulp. Maccus, however, was also the name of a typical character of the Fabulae Atellanae (the Latin popular farces), associated with a dissatisfied servant who was always ready to gorge himself on “poor” foods.
For centuries, in fact, the pasta with the maccu had been replacing meat in the diet of the lower social classes, although now it has instead become a gourmet dish. Its rich past is testified by some idioms such as livàri l’ogliu du maccu (removing the oil from the maccu), which emphasizes one’s particular skills in manual activities, and cògghiri l’ogghiu supra ‘u maccu (collecting the oil that there is over the maccu), referring to those stingy people, who try to save some money on every occasion.
Translated by Eva Luna Mascolino