Welcome to my world - a blend of passion, taste, and old-world traditions. Benvenuti nel mio mondo - un mischio di passione, gusto e vecchie tradizioni.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

SUSTAINABLE EATING: Means cooking from scratch and starting with fresh produce

Eating better goes beyond cookbooks. 

Yesterday, at the local Farmers’ Market, besides the beautiful and colorful display of fruits and vegetables, I noticed that the shoppers had one thing in common – they were middle-aged to older immigrants like me. Is it because we have more time to spare? Possibly.

 - Or is it because our eating habits reflect our roots and cultural identity?
 - Or is it the instinctive frugality of our family meals made of humble and seasonal ingredients?

By the way, I bought cranberry beans.

Cranberry beans (Fagioli Borlotti)

On my way home, I stopped at the supermarket, where convenience rules, to buy milk. At the checkout counter, I struck a conversation with a young mom who came to the store to buy ingredients for an old-fashioned, Italian dish called Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and bean soup). In her shopping cart, she had 2 cans of beans, canned tomatoes, chicken broth and chopped meat. She was following her mother’s recipe. My immediate thought: sugar, preservatives, sodium, nitrates.  She knew no other way. 

Had she planned her meal ahead of time, she could have purchased a bag of dry beans the day before and cooked them in the evening while doing homework with her children. The next day, she could have sauteed some onions, added 3 or 4 diced fresh tomatoes (if available) or a can of whole or diced tomatoes, the beans and pasta, and Voila!
Think about it, she would have had enough beans for several meals. Like anything else in life, planning ahead means getting the most for your money and time while minimizing waste.

But what do I know? I am an old, Italian immigrant.

Oh yes. The cranberry beans.

Fresh Shell Bean Stew
Time: 1 hour
6 servings

3 cups fresh cranberry beans (3 pounds in the shell)
1 quart of water
2 garlic cloves, halved
2 thyme sprigs and 1/2 teaspoon of thyme leaves
Pinch of baking soda
1 pound of tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

  1. In a saucepan, combine the beans, water, thyme sprigs and baking soda and bring to a boil.  Simmer over low heat until the beans are tender. 30 minutes or so.

  2. Drain beans, reserving 1 1/2 cup of cooking liquid.  In a saucepan, add the olive oil, saute' the garlic until golden, add the tomatoes and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, then add the beans and the cooking liquid.  Simmer the stew over moderate heat for an additional 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Add thyme leaves and serve.

Images: ©2010 - picasaweb


  1. your stew is beautiful! I have never seen these beans fresh, at least we can buy them dried.
    I agree with you completely about processed foods. We have stuff like that for emergencies, but my husband and I both like to cook "from scratch"

  2. Yes, you can get Borlotti beans or cranberry beans at farmers' markets this time of the year or maybe once or twice a year in an Italian grocery store. They are quite filling.

  3. OMG!!! I have never used this particular kind of bean. My mother used lots of beans, and I followed her tradition. Now I am going to make my own tradition and find these beans. Thanks for your yummy recipe!! Your picture is luscious!!!!

  4. marjenann - Like I said above, I see them two to three times a year. Very popular in Italy.

  5. Sounds like a lovely dish! Thank you.

  6. csillagvirag - Thank you for commenting.

  7. I grow these beans in my garden almost specifically for dishes like this. I just freeze them in their raw state and use them when needed, especially during the winter months.

  8. We grow them also. At season's end, my husband picks them and dries them. We cook them in the winter months. They are quite filling.

  9. I grew up in a family of six children. Dried beans were a staple in my home. My parents were organic gardeners as well. They sought out other organic foods such as free range chicken and duck eggs and we fished and crabbed from unpolluted waters. My parents had a huge circle of friends and some of them were hunters who shared their bounty of venison and quail. We grew up eating quite healthy foods. I just love your site and your sister site as well. The photos are so vivid and appealing!

  10. Anonymous - Thank you for commenting.

  11. Ciao Elisa, I thought you might like this poem...

    Bless my pretty kitchen Lord
    And light with Thy Love
    Help me plan and cook my meals
    From thy heavenly home above.
    Bless our meals with Thy Presence
    And warm then with Thy grace;
    Watch over me as I do my work,
    Washing pots and pans and plates.
    The service I am trying to do
    Is to make my family content,
    So bless my eager efforts Lord
    And make them heaven sent.

    p.s. I am just so passionate about REAL food...

  12. I'm going to make your stew with some of the dry beans I grew last year. Everything tastes better when it isn't from a can or a box. I love your blog - thanks for the great posts and great photos :-)