In five days, my parents will be here. They are staying for three weeks in the apartment next door. For months I’ve been looking forward to their visit. Like all our friends who have come to Perugia, they want to see more than the Etruscan Arch or San Lorenzo Cathedral. They want to see how local life is lived. They want to see where modern Perugians do their grocery shopping, take their evening walk and get a great espresso. So we’ll visit Cristiano’s pasta store, Rinaldo’s butcher shop and Marcello’s vegetable stand. We’ll walk down Corso Vannucci and Corso Cavour. And of course we’ll stop by Bar Alessi or Café Oscar along the way.
But there’s another place I can’t wait for them to see. It’s Bavicchi, the spice/bean/chocolate/and so much more store. It started over a hundred years ago as a shop selling cleaning supplies and dried legumes. Bavicchi has maintained its roots while offering some of the most delicious standard and specialty ingredients in the historic center of Perugia.
Owner Antonio Galli runs the small shop with his employee Federico Roselli. The space is a mere 320 square feet, but it’s bursting with variety. The walls are covered floor to ceiling in exquisite, colorful, aromatic, and even exotic goods. Besides beans (over 80 kinds) and spices (nearly 100), Antonio notes that many of his customers come in looking for nuts, dried fruit, and other ingredients for Italian desserts. Wines, honey, and chocolate are some of the other big sellers. Antonio also pointed out some of his more unusual offerings including maple syrup, tahini, powdered mustard, soy sauce, curry, and one jar of cranberry sauce (for the occasional American . . . in November).
Bavicchi also has chocolates. The most popular brand is Perugina chocolates which are made in Perugia’s oldest chocolate factory. Perugina began production 90 years ago and established the city as Italy’s chocolate capital. Since then, the company has been bought by Nestle. Vanucci is another brand on Bavicchi’s shelves. This is a high quality artisan chocolatier that tries to create what Perugina once made. They even have their own version of the famous Perugina Baci, only better. Then there is Augusta Perusia Chocolate. This is the smallest of the local companies. Beyond these three, Bavicchi sells lots of other Italian and European brands. With Easter just around the corner, a lot of the space in the store is used to display chocolate eggs.
Sometimes I come in not knowing what to buy and needing a suggestion. When that happens, Antonio gets his red box of recipes off the shelf and hands me an idea. Today he gave me a copy of crostini con fagiolina del Trasimeno, an appetizer of toasted bread topped with beans grown near Lake Trasimeno, just 20 minutes away. We made it for lunch today and will make it again when my parents get here.
While the beans are probably impossible to find back in America, one could make a similar spread with a creative substitute. Note that these beans from Lake Trasimeno do not need to soak before cooking while many other beans do.
Crostini with Bean Spread
250 grams of beans
2 stocks of celery
1 small onion
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
hot pepper flakes
salt and pepper
Cook the dried beans in salted water with the carrot, celery and half the onion for 40 minutes. While they cook, sauté the other half of the onion in the olive oil until it is soft and translucent. Add the tomato puree, salt, pepper flakes and pepper to taste and continue cooking for 5 minutes. When the beans have cooked, add them to the onion/tomato sauce mixture. Add a cup of water and cook for another 20 minutes. Spoon the beans on top of toasted bread and drizzle with olive oil and more salt. Serve as an appetizer.
Or as we did, eat it as the main course.