The Tolosa is impossible to find. We were lucky enough to get a small amount for the lucky folks in the heirloom bean and grain club this year. If you are fortunate enough to get your hands on some (you may have to fly to spain to do it) you are in for a treat!
There are many famous beans in the world but few beans are as celebrated as the Tolosa. Basques take their beans seriously but the Tolosa is elevated to an almost religious level. It is so revered that each year the tiny town of Tolosa located in the Basque province of Gipúzkoa, pulls out all the stops for a Babarrunaren Astea, "week of the bean." They even have their own "Brotherhood of the Bean" which produces delicious vats of the iconic Tolosa stew for the festival.
The Atlantic pronounce this legendary legume the most famous bean in Spain a decade ago. Ironically the Tolosa originated in the new world, not Spain or France. It was brought to the region from Venezuela two centuries ago, along with the traditional method of cultivating it with corn.
I'm struck by how similar the Tolosa looks to the heritage Oaxacan black bean from January. They both resemble shiny black beads with a trademark single white spot and they almost too pretty to eat. As much as I love the Oaxacan black though the Tolosa is the creamiest most flavorful bean I've ever had. The difference in appearance is the color. Black beans from Tolosa aren’t actually black. These famous legumes are really a beautiful dark purple and you'll certainly find a few in your bag that are more lavender than black. After the traditional long slow simmer in salted water and olive oil, they’ll be swimming in a velvety lavender tinted broth worth lapping up with bits of crusty bread. One bite and you'll see why these buttery delicate beans have become so famous. They are now grown in other parts of Europe but they are nearly impossible to find in the US, even imported. Lucky for you the folks at Boonville Barn Collective are obsessed with all things Basque and we got our hands on a small quantity this year.
Like so much of the best food from Spain, they are traditionally treated very simply. Just water, salt, olive oil and beans simmered low and slow for 3 hours. No garlic, tomatoes, ham hock or even a bayleaf. They are traditionally served with sausage and braised cabbage.
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