Isn’t it strange how as a child, the same things we hate, abhor, detest, we end up loving, downright craving, as adults? My siblings and I have laughed to no end at the spare, flavorless dinners our mother used to serve. Once a week my mother would go to go to the grocery store for a “big buy”. If we were in the car, she wouldn’t allow us to go in, saying, “You children stay here. Today’s a “big buy”. I’ll be back in TEN minutes.” TEN MINUTES??? A BIG BUY?? That ought to give you a little insight as to my mother’s feelings regarding food and cooking! She’d try to go to the store by herself and get that annoying food thing out of the way, never, ever suspect when she arrived home and her first middle child would greet her at the front door in the style of Eddie Haskell. “Hello, Mother. May I help you with the groceries?”, I would ask in my sweetest but most nonchalant tone. “Gracias, Cielo!”, she would answer, “You’re a BIG help!”. My mother ALWAYS had words of encouragement for us. While she was inside the kitchen unloading bags, I would go through the ones left in the car as quickly and thoroughly as a swat team. My mother bought only frozen vegetables, hard, square boxes of misery and disgust. Efficiently, I set all the boxes aside. Carrots, string beans, spinach, broccoli, the runner-up for nastiest, succotash. First place, numero uno for all time nauseating and most hateful childhood vegetable goes to……WAXBEANS!!!! Yes. My mother served us frozen wax beans. They were yellow and looked as though they had been hand dipped in tallow. And NOT in an artisanal way. When all the groceries were inside I would casually call out to who ever was around, “I’m going outside!!!” No one ever cared and no one ever paid attention, thank you very much! I’d grab all the boxes, all of them, and trot around to the back of the house. Stacked neatly on the dock, we lived on the water, I would take a frozen square, and with a strong and practiced arm, I would skip that box across the canal with all the strength in my 11 year-old body!!! Those boxes just skimmed across the top of the water, bouncing four, five, sometimes SIX times!! I know it was hideously wasteful but I really enjoyed it!! Mama always came home from the store in the late afternoon, so I was on the water skipping boxes when the sun was going down, palm trees swaying. Often the fish would jump. It was quite lovely. I knew I had scored when Mama would rip the freezer apart, all the while talking to herself, “Oh, pooh!! I know I bought vegetables!! Caramba! Where could they be??”. But sometimes, we weren’t that lucky and a box or two would slip past me. My older sister, Cynthia, and I had only a few ways around these toxic nuggets. And let me add, my mother didn’t even heap the vegetables on our plates! She only put maybe three or four beans on each of our plates. Child, that was more than enough! My mother never used salt or pepper and there was NEVER butter or any kind of sauce on the vegetables. They were just boiled. Making sure my father didn’t catch us, we would swallow the little, yellow, nasties whole with our milk. Until the day he DID catch us. I don’t know how Cynthia got her’s down, but I remember thinking, “I don’t care if I’m still here at breakfast, I’m. not. eating. them. I’m not.” Everyone would be gone from the dining room, Cynthia doing homework, Tommy and Pamela getting their baths. And there I’d be. No elbows or forearms were ever tolerated on the table and sitting up straight was mandatory. The night would just drag on, my parents walking by every once in a while, always saying the same thing, “and don’t even THINK about getting up until you finish all of that!!!!!” And I just sat there, thinking the same thought, “I’m not eating this. I’m not.” I’d hear my mother reading to Tommy and Pamela a bedtime story or two and I would feel big waves of hopelessness and despair wash over me because now I truly COULDN’T eat them. They were stone cold. And hard. And I didn’t have any more milk. Right about then my father would put down the paper and bark at me, “Get up. Put your plate in the kitchen, brush your teeth and you’re to go straight to bed.” Okay…I can do that. And the beauty of this whole memory is, the following morning you would never have known this had happened! There was absolutely no mention of the dinner fiasco the of the night before. My parents would be happy and loving, embodying the philosophy, “It’s a new day!” Today IS a new day, but not new enough to eat wax beans. Or broccoli. Or cauliflower. But just about every other vegetable is great! I love this dish, stewed green beans, because it’s so darned easy and it gives one the full feeling of eating something heavier, like meat or fish. The sautéed onion gives the beans and tomatoes the sweetness needed and the olive oil mixed with the broken down tomatoes results in a silky, savory sauce. Fassolatha is served with a healthy sprinkling of crumbled feta on top and crusty bread to dip in the sauce. I think it’s sublime!
yield: one large pot feeding 6-8 as a side or 4-5 as a main course
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large bag string beans, washed and trimmed (that means snap off and discard the ends)
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 heaping tablespoon of dried oregano, preferably Greek
- 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- salt and pepper to taste
- crumbled feta cheese to taste
- In a large pot, add olive oil and heat on medium high. When oil is hot, but not smoking, add onions and stir well.
- When onions are fairly translucent, add oregano, stir, then add green beans.
- Pour both cans of tomatoes into pot and carefully break apart tomatoes with the side of your spoon.
- Add salt and pepper, stir, cover and drop heat to low.
- Allow to stew for at least one hour. If this serves as your main course, serve in individual bowls with crumbled feta cheese on top. Hot, crunchy bread is always welcome!