Monday, February 08, 2010

Where MY heart is......

A few years ago I begged my Mum and Dad to send me a copy of Karen Martinis book ‘Where the heart is’. I somehow heard about the book and became obsessed with getting a copy. In a gesture of true parental love Mum and Dad bundled up a box full of Aussie chocolates, cotton treats (…bonds...) with a copy of this book and for a ridiculous amount of money posted it here to me in the UK.

It’s a beautiful book with many Italian inspired recipes and the kind of food photography that make you instantly hungry. Martini manages to convince the reader that she genuinely cooks from her heart and her recipes are unfussy yet deliver intense, substantial results. I chose a green bean recipe from her book and got way more than I bargained for as it delivered not only a perfect accompaniment to beef and red wine, but also a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

When I was a child my grandparents had a beach house in a tiny costal town in the North Island of New Zealand. This was where I spent my summers, indulged as the only grandchild of two people brimming with love. My cousins lived in the house next door, giving our summers a communal flavour. We spent carefree days swimming in the ocean and running up and down long stretches of sand, followed by fish and chips for lunch and nights in sleeping bags under the stars.

My Aunt Brigitte (by marriage) was English and her family well travelled. Through my 7 year old eyes they seemed to be familiar with the whole world. My cousins would tell childlike stories of exotic places they had been and I would drink them up enthusiastically propelling myself into the future when I too would get to visit those places.

Meals always featured fresh vegetables that had been procured from nearby farms or gardens. A common roadside feature along that particular stretch of New Zealand was makeshift stalls where people would sell fresh fruit and vegetables to passers-by. My favourites back then were green beans, and they are still my green vegetable of choice. I loved my grandmothers’ routine for preparation. She would sit down in front of the telly, with a bag of beans and top and tail each bean, letting the discarded tops and tails fall onto newspaper that had been carefully spread on the floor below. The pruned beans were collected in a pot that was half full of water in preparation for cooking, and every now and again I would steal small handfuls of them, as if I were stealing sweets.

I specifically remember one meal where Brigitte made a dish of green beans in delicious tomato sauce, and I remember thinking that it was one of the best things I had ever eaten. I can’t remember what we ate with it, nor can I remember anything else about that meal, yet I have thought about that dish often over the years, wondering what she put in it that made it so good. I’ve tried to recreate it a few times. Sadly, it always ended in disappointment.

However, when I tried Karen Martinis ‘Twice cooked green beans’ I was immediately propelled back in time to that wide eyed 7 year old girl, with dark brown skin and thick kiwi accent, to whom life was literally a beach holiday filled with laughter and fun with my cousins, love from my grandparents and the best green beans I had ever eaten!!

Twice Cooked Green Beans.

Cook 200g of green beans in a generous amount of hot vegetable oil for 2 minutes. Then drain on Kitchen paper.

In hot olive oil cook 1 large brown onion (chopped), 3 bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic (crushed) and 1 chilli(chopped) for about 5 minutes. Then stir in 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper (to taste), followed by a cup of tomato passata. Simmer for a further 3 minutes and then mix the green beans through the passata mixture.  

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