Borlotti is the general name in Italy for the varieties of beans cultivated from the common bean brought to Europe by the Spanish from America.
These include the fagiolo di lamon of Valbelluno and the fagiolo di saluggia of Piedmonte. Between them these two types of borlotti have captured the imaginations of chefs and cooks in Italy. As a consequence traditional dishes that were falling out of favour have made a resurgence.
In October 2013 lamon beans sold at €25 a kilo in the grocers and markets of Veneto.
Who would have thought that a common borlotti bean, once the only source of protein for upland herders and field workers, would become an expensive delicacy?
Not Pope Clement VII in 1532, that’s for sure. When he gave Piero Valeriano some of the bean seeds he had received from the court of Spain he optimistically expected the Venetian humanist to go forth and multiply.
Piero did just that, and now, almost five hundred years later, this unassuming brown bean has reached the heavens and the mountain farmers of the Lamon plateau are now eternally grateful.
They weren’t at first.
‘This legume is not as bad as some infer,’ wrote Valeriano in defence of the Pope’s bean. ‘On the contrary it is tasty and palatable as long as it is removed from the pod.’
Several varieties of the lamon are cultivated on the plateau. The frost-free, dry and warm climate produces a thin-skinned firm bean, high in protein, with a delicate flavour. Lamon is also larger than most borlotti.
The saluggia bean has similiar organoleptic properties and, like the lamon, has been a stable in the Piedmonte region since the sixteenth century. Climate, soil and timing also contribute to its success.
Borlotti with pasta, borlotti with sausage, borlotti in soup, borlotti in salad, each time these tender beans are desired.
Always popular among the cognoscenti, the lamon and saluggia beans stand high and mighty with chefs and cooks reviving traditional food.
Fasoi in Tocio, the aromatic beans and tomato sauce dish, has made a comeback.
Panissa, beans with rice and sausage, is also popular again along with its counterpart from the eastern reaches of the Po Valley.
Above all the lamon and saluggia beans are recognised as beans that absorb flavour during cooking.
Across the border in France the common bean took a different route. Also established in the 16th century – after Valeriano, again, gave a bag of the American beans to the Médici family to include them in the dowry of Catherine de Médici for her marriage to Henri, the son of the king of France, in October 1553 – they became known as haricot beans.
Haricot is now a catch-all term for all the beans known as borlotti, brown, coco, dwarf, flageolot, French, green, lima, lingot, navy, runner, snap and white.
These haricot beans became popular in France when they replaced the broad bean in cassoulet, the baked bean dish made in most French homes.
Numerous indigenous varieties are now established, significantly the haricot tarbais of Provence and the fagiolo di sorana of Pescia.
The cannellini or white kidney bean was developed in Italy (in Atina and Sarconi) and Spain (in Asturiana and Lourenzá) from American varieties. It is used in soups and stews, and as a salad dressed with olive oil.
The broad bean, known by southern European countries as the fava, haba or horse bean, is a native of the Mediterranean – a different bean altogether.
Fasoi in Tocio
beans in tomato sauce
- 300 g fagioli di Lamon (Lamon beans), soaked overnight / 600 g fresh borlotti
- 150 g onions, chopped
- 50 g bacon / pork rind, chopped (optional)
- 50 g passata
- 30 ml olive oil
- 10 g black pepper, freshly ground
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 6 sage leaves, whole
- 3 bay leaves
- Salt, pinch Water, for boiling
Cook beans until tender (an hour for fresh, three hours for rehydrated) in a pot of water seasoned with bay leaves, cinnamon and salt. Drain, set beans aside.
Brown bacon / rind and onions in oil over a low heat for ten minutes, add sage and allow to wilt.
Increase heat, add beans, stirring into the mixture, then the passata.
Reduce heat, simmer until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
Serve, garnished with pepper.
Risotto alla Carnarola
rice with beans and cotechino / zampone
This cane gatherers risotto from Veneto is similiar to the panissa vercelli of Piedmonte. The first uses the lamon bean from Veneto, the second the saluggia or cigliano bean from Piedmonte. Cotechini is an integral ingredient in both dishes. Vercellese rice is used in the panissa, carnaroli rice in the carnarola.
- 2 litres water
- 1.5 litres stock, heated
- 450 g cotechino / zampone, chopped or sliced
- 350 g carnaroli rice
- 150 g fagioli di Lamon (Lamon beans), soaked for 24 hours with one water change
- 125 ml wine white
- 100 g onions, chopped
- 30 g garlic, crushed
- 15 ml olive oil
- 20 g butter
- 10 g pepper
- 1 tsp parsley, chopped
- Salt, pinch
Prick the cotechino / zampone (to stop it breaking up during cooking). Put the beans and water in a large pot, bring to the boil, remove scum. After ten minutes turn heat to low, slip in the cotechino / zampone and cook for three hours.
Remove cotechino / zampone, then the beans from the stock. Keep stock simmering. Mash beans.
Sauté onion and garlic in the oil in a deep, wide frying pan over a low heat, about ten minutes.
Increase heat to high, coat rice, toast for three minutes, stirring constantly.
Pour in the wine and allow to evaporate, decrease heat to medium, add a ladleful of the hot stock, simmer and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Repeat with ladlefuls of stock soaking up the rice for 12 minutes.
Add beans, more stock, stir until the rice is al dente, about five minutes.
Remove from heat, leave to rest for ten minutes. Season and serve with cotechino / zampone.
Traditional Bean Dishes
Botifarra amb Mongetes SPAIN sausage and beans
Cassoulet FRANCE bean, herbs, meat and vegetable casserole
Chorba / Ciorba BALKANS CAUCASUS bean, herbs, paprika, vegetable soup
Fasoi In Tocio ITALY beans in aromatic-sauce
Fasoulia BALKANS bean-olive oil mash
Paniscia / Panissa ITALY rice with beans, salami, sausage, wine and vegetables
Pasta ai Fagioli e Pancetta ITALY pasta with beans and bacon
Salata de Fasole Boabe ROMANIA bean salad
Tavče Gravče MACEDONIA bean casserole
Adapted from Traditional Tastes of Europe.