This summer of the year 2016, declared by FAO “International Year of Pulses“ I decided to go discovering our famous white beans of Pigna, a variety of pulse cultivated since the 17th century in the back-country of Ventimiglia.
It is a Slow Food Presidia of Liguria jointly with the beans of the near villages of Conio and Badalucco.
This small, round and rosy pulse is well known all over the world for its delicate and fragrant flavor with chestnut notes, its dough firm but soft and its skin thin and transparent.
Running some researches I found that this pulse is highly sought not only by Italian but also by international chefs. Even Alain Ducasse in his “Dictionnaire amoureux de la cuisine” confesses that his absolutely favorite beans are indeed those growing in Pigna!
Therefore, my journey to discover this delicacy started in a very hot July morning.
I left the highway at the Bordighera exit and turned into the very narrow Val Nervia. After various kilometers of a twisting in the woods street I started climbing and climbing and climbing…
When the road became untracked, started climbing like a mountain trail and I was starting loosing hope (I was completely alone and the mobile was off line) a big bush of shiny lavender came up behind the curve. I was eventually arrived.
The little farm Al Pagan with its cozy and smart agriturism overlooks the valley just above Pigna.
When I got out of the car armed with my camera Roberto and Elisa came to meet me.
The sun was shining in their eyes. They were wearing mountain boots and cap, they are young and enthusiast.
In front of a welcome coffee they told me their story. After the university they started doing the job of their parents and grandparents, the job that they do best: crowing crops and taking care of our lands with quiet stubbornness – always – notwithstanding those years when the earth (as sometimes sons do) does not reward of all sacrifices made. Because they know since they were born:
“what means working with the sky on the head”
When we started taking about white beans at the hedge of a just sown field, they did it with the passion typical of those people who firmly believe in their choices and are proud of their daily hard work.
White beans grow across the slopes of the mountain, they told me, in the narrow dry-stone terraces which surround the agriturism and which were built by Robertos’ grandfather many years ago.
Farm tractors do not get there and the earth is worked with the arms or, at most, with a motor hoe. Sowing is done by hands as well – tradition says not before Saint John ( 24 of June) – and in that occasion also grannies help.
Spring water coming out a hundred of meters above drains the soil. It’s a particularly limpid, calcareous and mineral-rich water.
Roberto drains the soil twice a day just for few minutes. This particular hydration, continuous and calibrated, he confesses, is one of the reasons why their beans grow so soft and with a skin so thin.
On August the fields are white of small flowers and on September the picking begins. The picking is made rigorously by hands , as Elisa clarified me quickly and naturally miming the gesture.
They pick Pigna beans both fresh and dried (on the plant, obviously. They don’t dry the fresh ones as I’ve always thought…)
Chefs in the nearby – they explained me – book the fresh ones one year for the other. They prefer them because they can freeze them and when necessary they cook in few minutes without the need of previous soaking. The dried ones, instead, are mainly sold to delicatessen and at local fairs.
At that point I asked what is the best way to taste their beans. In a salad! they jointly answered. You have to soak them the night before, then boil them in slightly salty water with an onion and a couple of laurel leaves for about 45 minutes. Then you season them – still warm – with olive oil (extra virgin of course), salt, pepper and you can at your choice add a sliced green onion and some drops of vinegar.
Chefs that purchase their beans, however, often use them as base for more complex dishes, for example as a pureed soup to bring out shellfish or in lieu of potatoes in seafood salads.
When I came back home I prepared them without fuss, exactly as they suggested me, and I swear I found a huge difference!
As a conclusion, I wish to say that this post is indeed a sponsorship, it is a passionate advertisement of a product of excellence of our territory and of the high human capital invested for making this possible.
My reward for this post has been a wonderful experience, all what Robert and Elisa thought to me (not only on beans), discovering the crystal clear small bathing lakes where they brought me to cool down at midday, a bag of potatoes picked at the time right for me and many other precious small things I cannot tell you!
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