“The Bean-Eaters” of Cave di Foligno
Carracci’s painting, “The Bean-Eaters” (1590) lives on in a modern version at the Sagra del Fagiolo in the tiny village of Cave di Foligno (pronounced “ka-vay”) along the Topino River near the city of Foligno. At this “bean celebration,” locals unite for ten days to celebrate two fagioli varieties grown just in the area along the Topino: il verdino di Cave and il giallo di Cave. After putting in your food order with volunteers at the two cash registers (one eating a pizza stuffed with turnip greens, a favorite festival dish, the night we were there), you pass a volunteer selling packets of the bean varieties as you head into the food tent. Groups of families and friends feast at the tables as young volunteers carry out trays from the kitchen (where other volunteers are cooking up the tasty dishes, many highlighted with local beans).
Not all those at the sagra are “bean-eaters” as other foods entice as well: agnello scottadito (“grilled lamb to scorch your fingers”) won over the man sitting next to me while his wife chose the pizza stuffed with turnip greens. Pino chose the snails (he always will if on the menu) and ordered a plain bruschetta for antipasto. I wanted to stay with the fagioli theme: I chose the bruschetta topped with a tasty paste of turnip greens and the beans. Who could have imagined? (Italy is wondrous for this: the variety of foods, changing even village-to-village). I asked a woman at our table, Rita – who lives in nearby Foligno- if she’d ever heard of such a pate’? “Mai,” she replied with a smile. Rita’s soup, vellutata vittoria (“Vittoria’s velvet” and I can only guess, that a Signora Vittoria was one of the cooks), was a creamy bean soup.
For the main course, I ordered the star dish of this sagra, fagioli alla cainara or “beans the Cave way” (those who live in Cave are called “Cainaresi”), a rich soup made with the local beans, ground veal, tomatoes and herbs. For a vegetable? Turnip greens in garlic and olive oil – with beans, logicamente! We were too full for dessert but when someone at our table was served the crostata ai fagioli (bean torte!), I knew I couldn’t leave this sagra without the full experience. Our server, Pamela, promised to bring a “small slice” from the kitchen…..just to try. As she served us the dessert, I asked her how she ended up here waiting at table. She replied with a grin, “I went from the table to the kitchen: I used to come here just to eat the wonderful food and then I decided I wanted to help out.” I wonder if we’ll see Pamela in Cave di Foligno again next October? One thing is certain: we’ll be returning to this sagra, joining again the other “ bean-eaters.”
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Read more about the sagras
Read about Pino making torta on our wood stove
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