The memoir Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton2 had been on my to-read list for a while. I had read good reviews and was intrigued by the title. Hamilton's writing and storytelling style makes for an easy reading and the events she narrates with more details are well chosen. The three parts of the title corresponds to the three parts of the book and three periods of her life: childhood-early adulthood, chef/owner of a restaurant, marriage and motherhood.
My favorite part is when she describes her boss and mentor Misty for which she worked while in graduate school in Ann Arbour, MI3.
Working with her at Zanzibar taught me how to run a restaurant. It was the first time in 20 years I'd heard a chef say "I don't know, let me look it up." It was the first time I'd seen a chef solicit the opinions or ask about the experiences of her staff. If the dishwasher's mother made posole for every family reunion, Misty would ask him about it. She ran her kitchen without insults or humiliations or fraternity-like hazings.. There is so much anger and so many crises I can handle, particularly as my reading time is at the end of the day, after I have had my own share of problem solving to do.
Once the book moves to Italy, a lot of what Hamilton recounts sounded familiar. For example, when she describes people stopping by her mother-in-law's masseria (farmhouse) in Puglia to drop various produce, she could have described my childhood experience while staying with my aunt in my father's village: we would get figs, green beans, peaches, tomatoes, etc., delivered to our house in wicker baskets. They were mostly barter (my aunt hemmed and mended clothes for friends and neighbors). I assume some were actual sales, but I don't remember money ever appearing. "Facciamo i conti la prossima volta" (we'll settle next time) was the usual phrase.
The family of Hamilton's husband lives in Rome most of the year then moves to Puglia for the summer, so she experiences the difference between the city and the countryside of another region also in terms of food. As I was reading Hamilton's adventures, I remembered my first vacation away from my family, a fortnight spent with a friend in her hometown of Rossano, in Calabria4. A lot of the foods I ate were either new or prepared differently from the way my mother prepared them.
The latter group included green beans (a.k.a., snap beans and a few other names5), which my friend's mother boiled and dressed like a salad, but with the addition of red onion from Tropea6 (cipolla rossa di Tropea). I had never eaten a raw onion before and did not think you could. I quickly fell in love with the mild, sweet onion, elongated in shape, which is recognized at the EU level with the IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) label7.
Below is that seminal salad revisited to add two ingredients that bring additional flavor: whole-grain mustard (senape in grani) and dried cherries (ciliegie secche)8. Please note that the latter are not in the bowl I used for the photographs. If I get a nice image later I will add it to the post.
- 1 pound / 450 g green beans (snap beans), possibly organic
- 1 1/2 tablespoon chopped dried cherries (unsweetened and unsulphured), optional
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced and chopped torpedo onion
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- A touch of freshly ground black pepper
Trim the beans (I only top them) and wash them. Steam the beans until tender to your liking (my preference is for softer beans). Cool the beans quickly in a bath of iced water. Drain and place the beans in a salad bowl to cool thoroughly.
Place the cherries in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon / 15 ml of lukewarm water. Stir then stir again 15 minutes later. Set aside until ready to use.
Cut the beans into bite-sized pieces (approximately 2 inches / 5 cm long). Add the onion and toss.
Put the rest of the ingredients into a small glass jar. Screw on the lid and shake well. Distribute on the salad and toss gently. Sprinkle the cherries, if using, then toss again. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking, then serve.
As green bean season has just started, I know I will make this salad a lot in the near future.
1 I purchased the cheese board from BHVwoodworks: I like what Brian does with wood
2 The book's page on the publisher's website
3 In this article written for Food & Wine, Hamilton describes "Misty Callies, my reluctant mentor, who inadvertently shaped me into the chef I am now"
4 The Codex Purpureus is one of the treasures of Rossano
5 Snap beans, green beans, string beans (though modern varieties are stringless), haricot vert all refer to the same vegetable. "Green snap beans are categorized into two different groups, bush or pole beans, based on growth characteristics. If the bean plant needs support to grow, they are classified as pole beans; if the beans can grow on their own without added support, they are classified as bush beans." [source]
6 Notes on torpedo onions and the cipolla rossa di Tropea consortium's website (in Italian)
7 Definition of Protected geographical indication (PGI, IGP in Italian)
8 At the Downtown Berkeley farmers' market, I recently found sun-dried Brooks cherries with no additives from Frog Hollow farm.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the insalata di fagiolini e cipolla rossa di Tropea audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is also my contribution to the 36th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 11 years ago and that I continue to host.
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.