When Pasquale Mattei left his native Italy, he brought, amongst his few possessions, a small jar full of dried string beans. These beans were both a piece of his past as well as a part of his future. In Italy, his family had grown them, and in his new home, across the ocean in a small backyard in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, they would help sustain his wife and nine children.
Seed saving reinforces the core reasons to garden—self-reliance, connecting with the earth, and the deeply satisfying wonderment of watching nature at work. It can also create memories, family traditions, and some delicious recipes, like the two below which have been passed down from the Mattei family.
These easy and delicious family recipes use fresh string beans from your garden or farmers’ market. Give one or both a try!
Italian Potato and String Bean Salad
3 lbs. peeled potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cups string beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
½ tsp. oregano
2 teaspoons salt
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water with 2 teaspoons salt to a boil and add potatoes. Return to a boil and cook for five minutes. Add string beans and boil for 10-15 minutes more or until potatoes are just barely done. Immediately strain and refrigerate uncovered in a large bowl for 20-30 minutes, or until potatoes are cool enough to handle. Add olive oil, vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper and toss together. Tossing gently by hand is best to make sure everything is evenly coated without breaking the potatoes too much. Refrigerate covered for at least one hour or up to overnight before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Italian Beef Stew
1-½ lbs. beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1-½ lbs. peeled potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cups fresh string beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
1-6 oz. can tomato paste
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ teaspoon oregano
2 bay leaves
4 cups water
Cut beef into 2-inch cubes and season with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil on medium-high. Working in small batches, sear beef. Remove beef and turn down heat to medium. Add olive oil, onions, garlic, bay leaves, and salt and pepper. Cook until onions are translucent, 3-5 minutes. Return beef to pot, add tomato paste, water, and oregano. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Add string beans, and simmer 15 minutes more. Add potatoes, and simmer 20 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through. Adjust seasoning if needed and serve with crusty Italian bread. Makes 6 servings
This is an excerpt from the article, How Saving Seeds Can Become A Family and Gardening Tradition, pp. 106-110 of the 2018 Farmers’ Almanac.