There hasn’t been a lot of cooking done in our house since my last post. Obviously, we’ve all been reeling from the massive events in this country but that hasn’t been the reason for the lack of culinary activity. The cause is much more practical and mundane – we’re moving house. After twenty two years of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks, I will be saying ‘farewell’ to this kitchen and be off to find another.
Over the years I have cooked in a lot of places, some more enjoyable than others. There were the student bedsits, with cookers that looked like museum exhibits, and initial attempts at recreating the tastes of the mediterranean. In the days when aubergines were exotic and finding flat-leaf parsley was almost impossible, those first experiments were not always successful.
But it is a poor tradesman that blames his (or her) tools alone – there was of course a lack of skill and knowledge. Only once do you choose portobello mushrooms to make a mushroom soufflé – the resulting black pillow ended up in the bin !
Then there were the kitchens in Greece – in Kos and Athens. In Kos my first kitchen could, at best, be described as ‘rustic’; in a traditional Greek house, with a cold tap over a slop stone in the yard. The cooker, an electric hand-me-down from my mother-in- law, was a big bibendum-shaped, American affair, that would not have been out of place on the set of ‘I Love Lucy’. It worked though. There the amazing, fresh seasonal vegetables were a constant inspiration. And of course I had the best cookery school of all – the kitchens of experienced women with decades of knowledge and recipes handed down through generations.The commonality and community of the kitchen is international; there is nowhere better to discover the heart and soul of a new place than the kitchen of a good home cook. My cookery books are stuffed with scribbled notes made over the years – each yellowing, splattered scrap of paper carrying the words of all those wonderful women, still imparting their hard-earned knowledge.
My current kitchen, my home for the last twenty years or so, has been pretty much state of the art – with multi-function fan ovens, induction hobs and so on. In this kitchen I have honed my skills, tried new recipes and perfected old ones but it has been a lot more than a place to turn out meals. It has been the heart of our home – somewhere to talk, laugh, argue and, sometimes cry, It has been the venue for my children’s birthday teas, Christmas and Easter lunches, family meals and dinner parties. Here we have done homework, revised for exams and made decisions, big and small. Like all good kitchens, it has been the place everyone ends up at the end of the day; here we have welcomed new friends and said goodbye to those moving on.
This time it is our turn to move on and I’m sure I will miss this kitchen very much but the actual cooking and the heart of the home will come with us to the next one. Surely, that is the essence of a good kitchen – less the equipment and more the experiences.
Meanwhile, here’s a really easy recipe that I seem to have cooked a fair bit during this upheaval.
A simple casserole of green beans and potatoes – a super-tasty, one-pot dish – and just what we need at the moment. It works well with most green beans, though I would avoid the traditional English ‘runner beans’ for this one; I find that the ‘helda’ beans, sliced into chunky strips, work very well.
Fassolákia Yahní – Green Bean Casserole
400 – 500 gm green beans – sliced , if they are large ones.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small green pepper, sliced into medium sized strips
3 medium potatoes, cut into wedges
2 courgettes, cut into wedges (optional)
200 ml tomato juice
150 ml olive oil
Salt and pepper
Heat half the olive oil in a casserole pan on the hob, add the onions and cook until soft.
Add the green beans and mix, then add the sliced green pepper and mix again.
Next, add the tomato juice, the rest of the olive oil , the potatoes and courgettes if you are using any. Season to taste.
Turn the heat up and bring back to the boil.
Now turn down the heat, so that you have a gentle simmer. Cover the pan with the lid and allow to simmer for about 35 minutes until the beans and potatoes are tender. You may need to add a little water during cooking – just not too much – the sauce needs to be rich and fairly thick.
Serve with plenty of bread and slices of feta.