Last year I was delighted when Mr Romano, a specialist in Italian products, set up shop in the Place d’Armes Market amidst the many established French commerçants. How lucky were we? Now if I don’t have the time for a trip to Ventimiglia, his stand called, Frutta & Verdura, is just a stone’s throw away.
Mr Romano is quite knowledgeable about all things Italian and when we both have the time, we discuss the provenance of the things that he sells – and there’s always something to discuss. He and his friendly staff carry all manner of fresh, specialized Italian goodies like épine artichokes, traviso, and, how lucky are we, Pigna beans!
Every fall for a few weeks in September, small pods of little white beans from Pigna appear in the nearby Italian markets and if you blink, they’ll be gone. There’s a reason for that. Production of authentic Pigna beans is limited to producers in the Commune di Pigna, a small, mountainous area a few kilometres inland from Ventimiglia. And because they’re largely harvested by hand and mostly from small, family run farms, annual production is limited to about 4,000-4,500kg. This explains why Pigna beans are so rare – and expensive.
I bought a few bags of them from Mr Romano in December as gifts for my foodie friends and I haven’t seen them since until this week. I quickly grabbed a bag for myself. They’re definitely worth the price. Their soft and creamy texture is ideal for dishes where any white bean is called for, especially those in which beans are the focus of the dish.
Back in September when I bought some fresh Pigna beans in Ventimiglia, I created this recipe with them but there’s no reason why you can’t use dried ones in place of the fresh. They just need to be soaked overnight and require a longer the cooking time. If you’re a meat eater, Pigna beans are traditionally added to goat stew, goats being one of the other few things that will survive in Pigna’s rugged, mountainous terrain.
If you’d like to try some Pigna beans you’d better hurry. Mr Romano told me this morning as he was popping mine into a carrying bag, that he has only a few bags left.