When Tim and I visited my family earlier this year, my brother loaned me the book¬†The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. The story, if you don’t know it, is about a man who accidentally begins a long journey to a friend, and along the way, both he and everyone he knows is affected. I reached the last chapter on a Sunday night at Sevier Park, stretched out next to Tim on blankets beneath the setting sun. When I closed the cover, I turned to Tim and sighed.

“Did you like it?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I said to him, my head propped up in my hand. “This book reminded me that people can change.”

And people, I need to be reminded of that.

Braised Roma Beans

It seems to me that one of the kitchen’s best gifts to us, aside from being a place to connect and find nourishment, is that it is a place that reminds us of truths we forget. Like the book I finished, the kitchen vividly demonstrates that life is dynamic. Things are in flux. Like the green beans we braise on the stovetop, we are, all of us, ever transforming and moving and being made new.

I think about this every time I roast vegetables. I thought about it when I braised these Roma beans last week. Roma beans are a particular variety of Romano beans, also known as Italian string beans. Before we got them in our CSA, I’d never had them—but the way they’re prepared here would work with any similar vegetable. They have flat, wide pods that make you think of shelling peas, and their firm bodies crunch like a carrot when you bend them with your hands. When a big bag of these flat-podded snap beans became, right before my eyes, wilted, oily noodles rich in garlic and bursting with a hot kick of spice, it was hard to argue that everything stays the same. Fresh, firm beans become powerful fragrance, soft bites, Italian-style dinner—not unlike the weather changes with the seasons or we change with the friends we meet and books we read or that person who seems so impossible softens over time to have a different heart.

Braised Roma Beans

Of course, the thing about kitchen changes is they happen fast—even two hours of braising Roma beans is faster and more measurable than the time involved in becoming a better writer, cook or friend. Because you can watch the process, start to finish, in a few minutes or a short afternoon, it’s easier to believe that changes do occur. You can’t argue with how braising changes beans; you can argue that Difficult Person will ever be kind.

But that’s exactly the point. The kitchen is a microcosm of the larger world. It is an easy-to-watch, tangible demonstration of what is always happening, everywhere, in the bigger picture every day.

Braised Roma Beans

And when you eat your plate of beans transformed by heat and time and garlic oil, you witness a basic principle true on earth: We are changing, all of us, all the time, sometimes in microscopic, infinitesimal ways too tiny to quantify, sometimes in broad, sweeping ways hard to miss. But it’s happening, when we can’t see it and when we can, like when we cook.

Braised Roma Beans
Serves two as a side

This cooking method is adapted from rough instructions I read on the Lopez Island Kitchen Gardens blog, which were adapted from Zuni Cafe. Reminiscent of Tim’s grandma’s Italian-style green beans, these soft and garlicky beans are pure magic. Either one of us could have eaten them all on our own.

8 to 10 ounces Roma beans, washed and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large, crushed cloves of garlic

Snip off ends of beans. Place in heavy-bottom pot (like a Dutch oven). Drizzle and fold with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add a teaspoon of red chili flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and toss the mixture together with clean hands. Drop the crushed cloves of garlic on top.

Place pot on stove over very low heat and cover. Cook for about 45 minutes, stirring once in a while during the first half hour.

Taste for salt; adjust as needed. Continue cooking for a total of 2 hours, checking every 30 minutes but not stirring (to avoid crushing beans). It will be hard to wait if you watch them; try to distract yourself with other tasks because the long cook is key here. Beans are done when they’re totally soft and wilty.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Jolynn

    I have a bag of these in my fridge that I have been avoiding b/c they are so tough. Thanks for the recipe and motivation. This is what’s for dinner tonight!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oh, good! I would love to hear what you think, Jolynn!

  2. Jacqui

    I’ve never had Roma beans! I need to find some now. And yes to everything in this post. I find myself truly amazed lately at how much life changes, especially during this time in our lives when marriage is still new, and we are still in the early stages of building a home and a family. And then I hope that it isn’t just this time in our lives that brings about the change; I hope that there will always be change, because I never want to stop seeing things with new eyes. So I will make sure I won’t.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      I know. I remember a time, back in 2009, when I wrote a post about waiting for change to come—and now I look back and see that changes were already on their way towards happening. Change is always happening, all around us. I hope I always have eyes to see it, too.

  3. Lindsey | The Next Course

    Oh Shanna, I just love the way you describe the kitchen as “a microcosm of the larger world.” Such wisdom in these words! I’ve started sharing quotes about food and cooking on my blog on Mondays–would it be okay for me to quote you and this post next week?

    Oh, and I am going to have to hunt down some Roma beans (which I don’t think I’ve ever had) so I can try this recipe!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Oh, Lindsey, of course! I’d be honored. And I’d love to hear if you try this!

  4. felicia | Dish by Dish

    hey, i was looking at the picture comparing the before and after the braising of the Roma beans, and I was thinking, that sometimes in life, we are too close to the situation that we can’t seem the changes being performed, esp. if the changes are subtle and take their time.

    For us impatient beings, I’m one of those, I sometimes wonder when it will be that I can become a better writer, a better blogger, or just see changes in the relationships around me. But then, as your pictures very well shows, sometimes, we just need to take the situations as they are today, compare them with the way they were at the start, and we’ll see, that the changes were taking place all the while.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      That’s very true, Felicia. Sometimes it’s only when we step back that we can see the forest for the trees.

  5. Heidi

    I’m almost done with Unlikely Pilgrimage. A beautiful book with so much food for thought. I love that the story moved slowly, just as change sometimes creeps upon us in our own lives People can change, indeed. Did you see that the author has a new book out soon?

    1. Shanna Mallon

      I love that you’re reading it, too, Heidi! And I didn’t hear that — I’d love to get to read it. There’s something charming about British writers and they way they describe things.

  6. sarah kate branine

    I loved reading your thoughts here. This same subject has been on my mind lately. Like, really really on my mind. I wish we could talk this over in person! : (

    1. Shanna Mallon

      ME TOO!!

  7. Pingback: “The kitchen is a microcosm of the larger world” | The Next Course

  8. Pingback: Writes and Reads 2013 | A Literary Cookbook | Food Loves Writing

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