I don’t know about you, but I ate a lot of canned green beans as a kid. A lot of canned vegetables, in general. I don’t know why, exactly. My mother, who lives on top of a hill with plenty of open land, planted a garden one summer when my sister and I were still in elementary school. We grew beans and peas and a few stalks of corn and maybe some pumpkins. But the garden wasn’t resurrected the next summer, so we went back to canned veggies, though we got some exposure to good old-fashioned vegetable gardens at my grandparents’ house. Every year, my grandfather planted a garden full of all sorts of vegetables. Potatoes, onions, corn, peppers, green beans, peas. I especially remember the tomatoes, which I didn’t particularly care for back then. (Ketchup and pasta sauce, yes; tomatoes, no way.) My grandfather has been gone for 20 years this November and I still can’t eat a fresh tomato (or finish a jar of peanut butter) without thinking of him, every single time.
Now, of course, my food preferences are different. I don’t buy a lot of the packaged food I grew up eating. I’d rather buy fresh produce. I’d rather eat seasonally. I take my trips to the farmer’s market very seriously. I’m slowly but surely turning into a (limited) backyard farmer. I have more basil than I ever imagined four little plants could produce. I’m inundated with the most delicious cherry tomatoes and the sweetest red peppers I’ve ever tasted. I’ve even managed to eek out a cucumber or two, growing alongside the lilies and hydrangea.
Sometimes I wonder, what did my grandparents, who were teenagers and young adults during the Depression, teach me about food? A lot, really. They introduced me to gardening, to the sometimes lost art of digging into the dirt to retrieve nourishment and to the easiness of carrying the load from the soil straight to the kitchen table. They taught me about waste and how to avoid it, even if it meant scraping the very last bit of jam from the jar. They showed me how to eat the basics, sticking to the types of food their own parents would recognize.
Last week, in the midst of long days at the office and little time for chilling out, I sat around and wondered what to do with all of that basil and all of those cherry tomatoes turning red on the back patio. I knew I had a pound of green beans in the fridge, begging for some creativity. One thing led to another and pretty soon I found my way to a new recipe, heavy on the beans and tomatoes, all topped with a lovely basil butter sauce. The final product, a nice departure from the standard steamed green beans, turned out to be a great use of the produce on hand. I hope my grandparents would approve.
Green Beans with Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes and Basil Butter Sauce
(adapted from www.allrecipes.com)