Beans first arrived in Italy in the first half of the 16th century, thanks to Carlo V of Spain, who ruled a vast empire that spanned Europe, Africa and the Americas. The first varieties, introduced to Spain following their discovery in the Americas, were sent to Rome as a gift for the pope. This was the origin of the Arsoli bean, which has been cultivated in the village of Arsoli, in the province of Rome, since at least 1552. Thefts of the bean occurred so frequently in the area that Pope Julius III was forced to send two magistrates. Over the following centuries, the variety acclimatized perfectly to the slopes around Arsoli, in the Fosso Bagnatore Valley. Several documents attest to its cultivation, and it features in proverbs and traditional songs.
The climbing plant can reach a height of 3.5 meters. These days, canes are generally used to support it as it grows, but in the past the bean was often grown alongside corn so that it could climb up the stalks. The white flowers turn into pods containing small white beans, kidney-shaped and slightly flattened.
The plant needs lots of water, but the many springs in the area ensure that the small plots below the village remain damp and easily cultivable. The harvesting and the threshing are done manually; the latter involves beating the dried pods with canes.
Arsoli beans are easily recognizable by their buttery texture. When cooked properly they can be crushed in the mouth with the tongue, because the skin is very thin. They maintain their consistency for a long time after cooking and are easy to digest, rich in protein and simple to use in the kitchen, as they do not require soaking.
In Arsoli, they are cooked in a terracotta pot called a pignatta, then served in a soup with ciciarchiole (squares of homemade pasta) or stewed with onions, stale bread, extra-virgin olive oil and black pepper.
Harvesting takes place progressively from August to November, the dried product is available all year round.