Monday, February 24, 2014


Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So we have beans at every meal!

 Ah, kids songs. And ah, the magic of beans. Who didn't chant this rhyme in that kid's taunting, teasing, sing-songy voice whenever a friend or classmate, well, let one loose, so to speak? And who dreaded being the one towards whom the arrows were pointed?

 We lived in fear.

 But didn't we love beans? Baked beans in tomato sauce served with hotdogs? Be a lttle daring and get the baked beans made with bacon or ham hock… forbidden fruit! Or refried beans slathered on a tortilla, wrapped up tight, topped with salsa and what a treat!

Today is Monday
Monday -- string beans
All you hungry children, come and eat it up!

 This was my sister's favorite song and she could sing it from Monday through Sunday, much to our wonder and amusement. She knew all the best songs. Goober Pease. On Top of Spaghetti. Camp Granada ("'Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh"). Do Your Ears Hang Low. I Know an Old Lady.

 Strings beans, spaghetti, soup, roast beef. Fresh fish and chicken and all the children come and eat it up. As a very happy (obsessive) eater, this song never ceased to fascinate me. I, in turn, sang it occasionally to my sons, but somehow it never had quite the same ring to it as when my sister sang it.

 And remember Mexican jumping beans? A kid's delight! Hold the tiny capsules in your hand scrunched into a fist and wait… bouncing off the table, jumping from the floor between legs spread wide. Fascinated!

Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear. - Aesop

 I always longed for a beanbag chair. * sigh * Didn't all the coolest kids have beanbag chairs? There was something so decadent about owning a beanbag, something so on the edge. Beanbag chairs went with listening to the coolest music, joint stuck between lips, bellbottom jeans and Hang Ten t-shirts. Flop onto a beanbag chair, slouch down deep and get lost. Lava lamps and FM radio, 8-track tapes, black light posters and platform shoes.

“Thunderation,” roared Speaker of the House Joe Cannon of Illinois. “I had my mouth set for bean soup! From now on, hot or cold, rain, snow, or shine, I want it on the menu every day.” - 1904

 Bean Soup. Something so Italian. A poor man's feast is bean soup.

 Simple, comforting, soothing; sustaining body and soul. Heart and soul.

 I would buy packets of clear cellophane, packets filled with a variety of beans in gorgeous colors of spring, summer and autumn, creamy white, dusty brown, pale green, packets like bean bags for juggling squeezed gently between fingers for that satisfying squish, the faint crackle of the cellophane, the muffled yet relaxing scrunch of the beans, like one of those gadgets meant to relieve stress.

 Begin with a soffritto, tiny cubes of carrot, celery, onion sizzling in olive oil. Pour the beans into a pot. Toss on a branch or two of fresh rosemary, a scattering of thyme leaves, a soft leaf of sage straight from the plants on the balcony. A bouillon cube, if you will. Add the rind of an old chunk of Parmesan that has long been scraped clean, imparting a subtle, delicate scent. Cover with water and cook, simmer, skim away any and all impurities. Salt and pepper.

 Zuppa del Contadino, bean soup, saw us through many a winter evening in Italy. Large soup bowls, tender beans, chewy grains and fragrant broth ladled up, dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and a generous dusting of Parmesan. Farro, lentils, fava beans, chickpeas, white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans.

 Zuppa pasta e fagioli was reserved for restaurant meals. Creamy beige borlotti beans, meltingly tender, and ditalini, tiny mezzi tubetti, mini half tubes of pasta offering a delicate bite. Pasta e fagioli eaten in a Roman restaurant.

You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by the way he eats jelly beans. – Ronald Reagan

 Jelly beans have always been irrevocably linked in my mind to Easter. And I did not celebrate Easter. Pastel colors of pink, green, orange, yellow and blue. Sweet and sugary, crunchy, chewy, fruity and wonderful. Jelly beans were simply magical. All the tastier for being forbidden fruit.

 Since moving to france, I have been, for the most part, jelly-bean-less. Mostly. Remember the Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans? My sons were small when the Harry Potter books and films came out and we would sit and read the stories together, go to see the movies together, joyously. And, of course, we tried the candy. And Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans were surely on our list of must-tries.

 We tried to pick out the chocolate, peppermint, and marmalade, tried to avoid the ones like spinach, liver, and tripe and woe be he (or she) who bit into farm dirt, vomit, earwax, paper or bogeys. It was like a lottery, Russian Roulette of jelly beans. One box split three ways and it was all we needed. We would go back to traditional jelly beans, thank you very much.

 A carton in the mail, a USA label. Pounds upon pounds of Jelly Belly jelly beans from a friend back home, more jelly beans than a girl can eat in a year. Husband sighs, eyes rolling in something halfway between dismay and disgust. More candy. No. Jelly beans.

This dish fulfills all my wishes for textures and flavours; the beans are sweet and soft, the breadcrumbs and anchovy topping is salty and crunchy and the parsley adds freshness. And it is a great way to use stale bread; the best breadcrumbs are the ones you make yourself out of leftover bread although you can use store bought ones as well. The topping won't be as crunchy with store-bought crumbs but the taste is more or less the same. You can increase or decrease the amount of topping depending on how much you like it.

4 servings

350 g/12 oz trimmed green beans
250 ml/1 cup homemade breadcrumbs (you pick out the soft, stale inside of the bread and divide it into smaller crumbs with your fingers)
5-6 tbs store-bought breadcrumbs (smaller amount because the crumbs are so much finer)
4-5 anchovy fillets in oil
2-3 tbs chopped parsley
extra-virgin olive oil

   Heat up about 3 tbs of olive oil in a skillet together with the anchovy fillets over medium heat, stir the anchovy around and you will see it dissolve, at which point you add the breadcrumbs and continue stirring until the breadcrumbs are golden. Add the parsley and take the skillet off the heat.  

   Cook the beans in lightly salted water for around 8 minutes or as long as you prefer. Drain the water and put the beans on a serving dish, add the topping and serve.

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  1. Ooooooh what a delicious dish Ilva and Jamie!

  2. I remember my grandmother in Croatia...always roasted and toasted breadcrumbs to put on just about all steamed or cooked vegetables...I love the crunch and taste of the crumbs in my it!
    Love your story and Ilva's photography...I always learn from both of you...

  3. Our childhood beans rhyme was slightly more direct: it started off, Beans, beans are good for the heart....!
    And we seem to have a family gene for baked beans. My brother loved them and so does my son. He'd happily eat baked beans and rice for every meal, but I haven't noticed any wind problems resulting!.