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Fagioli e Legumi: Beans and Legumes

An important staple of the Italian diet is il fagiolo (the bean).


There's a vast variety of beans in many shapes, colors, and sizes, with local names, but the principal ones are borlotti (pinto beans) and cannellini (small white beans). Other popular legumi (legumes) include ceci (garbanzo beans or chickpeas), lenticchie (lentils, of which there are many varieties), and fave (fava beans).


Note: In English, the word "bean" is generic and can represent all kinds of legumes from garbanzo beans to kidney beans. Beans are beans, kind of like nuts are nuts in English. But Italians distinguish among the different kinds.


While we're at it, let's mention i fagiolini (string beans, green beans). Since we eat the "pod," il fagiolino falls into the category of vegetables (verdura, ortaggi), nutritionally, even though, technically it is un legume




When in season (late spring), cannellini and borlotti are sold fresh in their pods, da sgranare (to shuck), but in addition to being canned, they're found on the shelves of supermarkets and alimentari (small grocery stores or delis) in dried form. They get soaked for many hours, and then cooked for a relatively long time, in terra cotta pots (traditionally). They contain a fair amount of protein, so they're a great source of protein for vegetarians, as well as for people who can't afford to buy much meat. 


Even the cooking water from the beans doesn't go to waste, but gets pureed with a portion of the beans themselves, making a great vegetarian brodo (broth) for the kind of soups that are particularly popular in Tuscany.


There's talk, in a video about famous Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi, about the type of lunch that would be served in his parents' trattoria (small family-run restaurant), which catered to workers and consisted of humble ingredients and dishes.


...un ristorante frequentato, fondamentalmente,

...a restaurant frequented, fundamentally

da operatori di questo tipo,

by workers of this type,

quindi un ristorante dove si facevano panini,

therefore a restaurant where they made sandwiches,

dove si faceva la trippa,

where they made tripe,

e dove si facevano ... non so i fagioli.

and where they made ... I don't know, beans.

Captions 3-8, L'arte della cucina - La Prima Identitá

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La trippa (tripe), from the first stomach of the cow, is (or was) one of the more inexpensive animal proteins, which is why Gualtiero talks about it being a popular dish at his parents' trattoria. See this video (in Italian) about preparing la trippa!


Towards the end of April, if you hang out in Tuscany, you will see fava beans (da sgranare) in the produce section of supermarkets and dal fruttivendolo (at the fruit and vegetable market). On il primo maggio (May 1st), it's traditional to serve these fava beans, pods and all, at the table, where friends and family gather to celebrate the Italian (and international) holiday, La Festa dei Lavoratori or Festa del Lavoro. It's the equivalent of Labor Day.


Questa pianta viene comunemente chiamata baccello, ma in realtà il baccello è la buccia esterna, come lo è per il pisello ed altri ortaggi di questa famiglia.

This plant is commonly called "pod," but actually the pod is the external skin [shell], as it is for the pea and other vegetables of this family.

Captions 5-7, La campagna toscana Il contadino - Part 2

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Fagioli may seem like an unassuming, inexpensive, simple contorno (side dish), but when conditi (seasoned) with high quality olio extravergine di oliva (extra virgin olive oil), they become a delicious classic dish appreciated by diners all over Italy.


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