Fagioli del Purgatorio: a summery bean salad


Summer in Italy means one main thing for me — trying to keep cool, which includes staying away from the stove. Luckily, it’s also the time of year when fresh produce is so ripe and sweet, you barely need to do anything to it anyway — I practically live off tomatoes in the summer, dousing them in olive oil and eating with thickly torn pieces of buffalo mozzarella, usually. Or chopping or squeezing juicy ones raw into a sauce to dress pasta. Prosciutto e melone becomes a staple meal, too, as does some form of this simple bean salad. Minimal and effortless, which is, I think, the best way when it is too hot to move.

Last summer, while visiting my lovely friend Alice at her country home in Lubriano, a gorgeous, off the beaten path village in a corner of Lazio’s Viterbo province that borders Tuscany and Umbria, she gave me a jar of beans. They were tiny, pearl-like beans grown locally to Lubriano called fagioli del purgatorio — purgatory beans. According to the Slow Food Foundation, fagioli del purgatorio have been grown since time immemorial in the province of Viterbo. Even the Etruscans of this area were already cultivating these beans. They’re typically boiled and dressed simply with olive oil, salt and pepper or cooked in soup. They are rather similar to cannellini, but smaller, sweeter, almost buttery and with a very delicate fine skin that means they don’t need soaking before cooking — or less cooking time (perfect for avoiding having the stove on for too long).

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If using dried beans, you may want to see my favourite way to cook beans, which is based on Elizabeth David’s recipe for a very traditional Tuscan way to gently cook beans with garlic and herbs. You’ll never taste beans as good as when done like this. But, if you’re also looking for a quick meal, fresh podded beans cooked the same way are quicker and of course tinned, cooked beans make a meal in a flash.


Insalata di fagioli, pomodoro e cipolla
Bean, tomato and red onion salad

This is one of my favourite summer meal solutions. You can do the same (but without soaking and less cooking time) with freshly podded beans too. My friend Valeria uses fresh borlotti beans; in Tuscany you’d normally use cannellini beans. Use whatever you like, tinned or fresh or dried, cooked beans of any sort — chickpeas and lentils are also nice. You can also add tinned tuna for an extra protein boost (a version I have in my cookbook Florentine).

Serves 4

  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 large ox heart tomato (or a couple of smaller tomatoes, or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
  • 350 grams of drained, cooked borlotti, cannellini or other beans
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Halve and thinly slice the red onion and place in a bowl of chilled water with a tablespoon of vinegar for 10 minutes. In the meantime, roughly chop the tomato and place in a serving bowl with the drained beans and dress with the oil, the rest of the vinegar, the parsley and salt and pepper. Drain and toss through the red onion and serve. This is also great the next day too, right from the fridge.



  1. Christine Beveridge says:

    Emiko, Thanks for the recipe, which I’ll be trying in the Australian summer. My husband and I are actually in Italy now, at the end of a month long holiday. The tasiest bean dish I have ever had, pasta e fagioli, was in San Martino in Pensilis, in Molise. We are currently in Chiavenna, in the Alps, where our son-in-law’s mother is from. The food is very good! Thank you for your blog and books. I have made quite a few things from them. I look forward to more good things. Ciao!

  2. Rachel says:

    Well this is amusing. Guess what I’m eating a bowlful of while catching up with blogs over lunch? White beans dressed in wine vinegar and olive oil with tomatoes, onion and parsley!

  3. Karen says:

    I’m eating this right now! After seeing it on your Instagram this morning I had to have it!

  4. Susanna La Viola says:

    One of my favorite summer repast! Growing up my mom used to prepare the white beans with red onion, Italian tuna, olive oil, salt and pepper.
    Now, I will try your version Emiko. And you are right, they are just as good right out of the refrigerator!
    Always a pleasure to read your stories, and recipes.

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