Food is History in Liguria

Pignone Festival Celebrates Local Food 
One way Italians express pride in their culture and their history is with food - God bless them. Almost every town has it's Prodotti Tipici (local specialties) and the Ligurian town of Pignone has some that are really interesting. An historic town near the Cinque Terre and north of La Spezia, its food traditions go back centuries, and with good reason.  You don't need a history or marketing degree to realize a town on trade routes with rich farm land near a rocky coast might have the edge in food production. But keep in mind that Pignone's prodotti tipici  developed when marketing meant carrying the products on foot to La Spezia or to the coast. 

Dry corn or Granturco Dall'Asciutto of Pignone
Granturco Dall'Asciutto of Pignone on the cob. Named dry corn because
it can survive dry spells. It makes good polenta and a special focaccia.
The big festival called Gli Orti di Pignone (The Gardens of Pignone) is the annual expression of local food pride in Pignone. It is held on a weekend at the end of August and it draws thousands. There is food and wine to buy, to eat, or just look at. Local music groups help celebrate the town's contadini origins, the atmosphere is lively and it lasts into the night. According to the Pignone Pro Loco, in 2014 the Sagra will be held Saturday August 30th from 18:00 to 24:00 and Sunday August 31st from 12:00 to 23:00.  Here's a rather long amateur video that you can flip through to see what to expect: Gli Orti di Pignone 2011 Video.

We genuinely like Pignone and have written about it before in Beautiful Villages of Liguria Part 7, where you can read a short description of the town and its history.  The Touring Club Italiano likes the town too and awarded Pignone its quality seal, the Bandiera Arancione: TCI Best Small Towns - Pignone.

Pignone's Products. Here is a guide to some of the most notable local foods. Most are hearty specialties that will store and travel well. As your friendly test dummies, we have tried almost all of
them to be sure they're good enough for you. Our thanks to the Italian site Happy Foods for lots of this food info.

Patata di Pignone.  Before anyone wrote about agriculture, Pignone grew potatoes. Liguria is famous for dishes which incorporate potato, such as Trenette al Pesto or Stoccafisso alla Ligure (dried cod, Ligurian style). This medium-sized white potato is tasty with a nice texture and is used for gnocchi, in pane patata di Pignone (potato bread), in torta di patate (potato tort), as a side dish or as an ingredient.  The potatoes are sown around April 1 and harvested in the first half of August in time for the Festa. They are so good we went through 2 kilograms of Pignone potatoes writing this little article.

Potatoes of Pignone or Patata di Pignone
The Potatoes of Pignone - harvested in time for the Sagra.
Granturco Dall'Asciutto. This corn is grown all over the little valleys hereabout and is used to make corn meal for excellent polenta or a unique corn meal focaccia cooked in a special type of oven called a testarolo. It was one of the main food sources for people here until the middle of the 1900's. The name means 'dry corn' and refers to this particular rustic variety that does well with the minimal water available on the slopes in summer. In the autumn you'll see pretty fields full of dry stalks since they only harvest when the corn is fully dry. The kernels are an inviting orange yellow, and they will stay that way - locals are vigilant about keeping out non-traditional varieties, i.e. Monsanto.

Fagioli. With modern protein-rich diets, beans are a side show. But if your main food was corn or chestnuts, they were a necessity, and you'd be able to distinguish the different beans as easily as a Samsung Galaxy from an i Phone.  The arrival of Pignone beans in La Spezia's market was a noted annual ritual in years past, and as recently as the 1950's trucks would leave Pignone regularly for northern cities loaded with 3 tons of beans. The town grows six kinds of beans, and connoisseurs know the attributes of each. Not all the beans are available widely.
Fagiolo dell'Aquila is also known as Beans with the Eye (fagioli con l'occhio) because they really look like they have an eye. This quick cooking bean is native - they didn't come from the Americas like most beans - and they were part of the Roman diet!
Fagiolo Lume is the Borlotti bean, which is a traditional Ligurian legume. According to town records, it was introduced by Napoleon's soldiers.
Fagioli Canellini, and Fagioli Cannellini dall'Occhio Rosso are, respectively, the familiar white Cannellini and a newly rediscovered heritage bean, the Red Eye Cannellini. If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen available while you're here, try our recipe for Gulf of the Poets Mussels and Cannellini.
For the record Fagioli Cenerini and Fagioli Lupinari are also grown, but we are running low on space and adjectives.

Cipolle di Pignone. These onions have been cultivated here at least since the 1800's, and are popular throughout the area. It's an oval red onion that matures in late spring and can reach 800 grams, almost 2 pounds each! Often described as sweet and tender, it is frequently combined with Pignone's beans. One common recipe is Insalata di Fagioli e Cipolle which combines cooked beans, olive oil, and salt with raw sliced onion and is sometimes enhanced with hard boiled egg or tuna.

Sausage of Pignone or Salsiccia di Pignone
The Sausage of Pignone are available in La Spezia as well.
Salsiccia di Pignone. This sausage is a nice, moderately spiced version that has been produced here for about 50 years and has steadily gained fame. It's similar to the plump Italian sausage sold in other countries, but a bit more intense and without fennel. It can be eaten raw - inside focaccia or spread on toasted bread; or it's excellent grilled or cooked in dishes calling for fresh sausage. We have seen them on sale in La Spezia's central open market.

Sanguinaccio. Try this delicious black sausage even if you've been unimpressed with blood sausage elsewhere. It is spiced in a way that makes an interesting complex taste. We tasted hints of pumpkin pie. It can be eaten raw or sauteed in a covered pan.

La Susina. Known in local Ligurian dialect as Balls of Asses (balle d'ase) this is a type of smallish plum grown locally. Extremely tasty and violet colored. If you dare, ask for them by the local name to show your solidarity.

Getting There
Exit the A12 (E80) Genova-Livorno Autostrada at Brugnato and follow SS15 south following signs to Borghetto / Pignone  / Ricco del Golfo until the SP38 which has signs to Pignone / Monterosso.

Coming from the Cinque Terre, you can reach Pignone on the SP38 from Monterosso al Mare.

Written by Martha