Yesterday, 19 August we were invited to attend a two part event, firstly to learn something about the Garrofó ( the large white bean in paellas) and then to visit the L’Horteta de Greta a market garden and organic food shop in Corbera de Alçira and to taste again the paella evolutiva which Pepe Fortea has honed to its final version.
We began at a gps point somewhere in the vast ‘Huerta’ south of Alcàsser, 30kms from Valencia where a very educational presentation was about to be delivered by our hosts David Bosch (President of the Valencian Garrofó Producers Association), Salvador Soler (Professor of Genetics in the UPV´s Institute of Conservation and Improvement of Valencia´s Agricultural Diversity), and Regina Monsalve (President of the College of Technical Engineers and Graduates of Agriculture for Valencia and Castellon.
The Lima (or butter) bean is white legume, and is a vital part of paella and many other dishes. However we were to learn very quickly that this is a cheaper bean, imported, and that it is emphatically not the Garrofó from Valencia. Indeed this latter bean has some very different characteristics.
Salvador started the presentation by explaining that the UPV were conducting research into the Valencian Garrofó and that there were some 35 individual types which had so far been identified through their morphology and genetics. He believes that there are more, but that some growers are either reluctant to give up seeds for research or too proud of what they see as their ‘exceptional’ bean!
Analysis of the garrofó shows it has a higher count of Phosphorus, zinc and copper and a higher fat content which gives it a creamier texture. Also the three varieties currently being marketed by the Association have another distinctive difference. They are not pure white like the Lima bean and have very clear maroon markings on them. They are La cella Negra (black eyebrow) Ull de Perdiu (Partridge eye) and Pintada (Painted, stained or striped.) Another distinguishing mark is the violet flower whereas the Lima is pure white.
The aim of the study eventually is to produce a guide and register of the true Valencian varieties and then use this to assist producers and consumers alike to use them rather than the foreign imports. (At this stage consumers will have to rely on labelling but in Consum eg, The dried and frozen beans are identified as Lima or from Peru etc whilst the fresh beans here or at a market stall are more likely to be native if called Garrofó.)
David went on to explain that the bean is not difficult to grow but a stand as shown in the picture above can take around 850 hours of work before the beans are planted in mid-March onwards. The ground will first have to be prepared (the crop is rotated and in fresh ground each year) irrigation (sub-soil) will need to be in place and then cane supports cleaned before the elaborate structure is built and reinforced, (they are susceptible to damage from high winds.)
The beans take from March to October to complete their cycle. They can be picked fresh, or in the dried pods.
Regina completed the presentation with a brief explanation of the College´s contribution. The study will not lead to a DO being created but possibly an Indication of Protected Geographical status, best will be to see consumers knowing what to ask for and using another of Valencia´s treasures.
The group ( mainly press at this stage) then moved another 30 km down the motorwy to L’Horteta de Greta.
Here lunch was being prepared for us , a diverse group of journalists, politicians, and ‘Locos for Paella’ one of the many groups dedicated to Valencia´s most famous dish.
The market garden is extensive with a large variety of crops being grown and for sale in the shop attached to the property.
A wide range of freshly picked organic vegetables are available including several different types of tomato, pepper, chili, squashes and several health foods from organic produce are also sold in the shop. We tried the crisps made from Quinoa or from chickpea flour for example. Granizados Granny were showing their iced agua de Valenciá which had been mixed with ‘Roxanne’ cava from Chozas Carrascal, other sponsors of the event included the Valencian Ecological Agriculture Agency and an Italian Sculptor Moris Bosa whose models of agricultural implements and vegetables were made from Carrara marble and reperesented many hours of work.
We began the meal with plates of ripe tomatos, with olive oil and fresh bread.
Manel Guasp represented Chzas Carrascal and bottles of Roxanne Cava, Marine Rosado from Garnacha and the Las Dosces (Blanco and Tinto ) refreshed the diners!
Maria Jose San Román, the Michelin starred chef from ‘Monastrell’ in Alicante had produced the next starter which was presented on the traditional wooden paella spoon and which included a garrafó wrapped in meat served with pollen and an emulsion. There was beer as an alternative!
The star dish of the day was the Paella Evolutiva developed and produced by Pepe Fortea. The garrofó is a principle ingredient of his paella. The presentation and flavour throughout this paella is exceptional with its perfect golden socarrat, lozenges of artichoke gel, creamy beans and it drew warm applause from the invited guests.
Desserts followed , including pumkpin buñuelos (doughnuts).
Our thanks go to José Cuñat of Locos for Paella for the invitation to the presentation and subsequent celebratory lunch of fine Valencian produce. It is to be hoped the effort being put in to promoting the garrofó pays off, it has a better structure and is capable of adding real flavour to the paella itself. It has lost 75% of its growing area in the Community as foreign, cheaper and inferior beans have been substituted in its place. Valencian Paella deserves the best ingredients as we have seen before with the use of saffron in infusion rather than cheap colouring agents.