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Eating at home is a new norm

Pasta e-fagiole (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

A tiny virus has made our large world shrink. Life has become strange, surreal, silent. The entire planet is social distancing. In the midst of the chaos, uncertainty reigns.

In better times, we share love by preparing food for friends and family. We offer a loaf of bread or a jar of homemade jam to a friend. We bring a meal to friends who are ill or suffering or to a mother with a newborn baby.

Sunday was Mother’s Day. On this day, we honor our moms, who have always worked hard to love, care for, feed and nourish us. In the past, we celebrated Mom by going together to her favorite restaurant or by preparing a special meal for her. Food is love.

Before the pandemic, our lives were increasingly harried. We stopped cooking food. Instead, we joined friends at a restaurant for a meal, delegating cooking and cleanup to others.

Now that life has slowed down and restaurants have closed or are limited to takeout, many have begun to experiment in the kitchen. The fine art of home cooking has returned.

We browse through pages of cookbooks we haven’t used in years. We watch cooking shows on television and you tube. We search cupboards and freezers for what is stored there.

Growing food, shopping for food, preparing and cooking food can be tiring tasks. We can view them as tedious chores, or we can see them as caring acts of love.

Eating at home is a new norm. It helps pass the time. It helps nourish our families. It saves money — it’s less expensive than restaurant food.

Sharing food does more than feed our bodies: it feeds our hearts and souls.

Food brings us together. We share joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams, over a bowl of soup, a loaf of bread, a glass of wine. Bread and wine unite us with one another, and with the divine. We are re-discovering that food is love, and God is love.

Nourishment is the key to sustenance. Most of us have not lacked for food — although sometimes that food was junk that wasn’t very nourishing. When we have plenty, it can be hard to imagine doing without.

Now many are struggling. The simple task of feeding families has become a challenge. Food banks have risen to the occasion and are seeking donations. We give what we can. We nourish our neighbors by sharing what we can spare: a loaf of bread, a bag of beans, a dozen eggs.

Times are tough. Food is love. Share that love with someone today.

This week’s recipes are plant-based and made with beans — an inexpensive source of nutrition and protein. Enjoy.

Beans and Rice

There are thousands of variations of this dish — popular throughout Latin America. Each country has its own recipe and name. Each uses different ingredients, and the preparation of the dish also varies.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dry beans of your choice (small red beans, kidney beans or black beans all work well)

1 medium onion

1 green pepper

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups water

1 cup uncooked rice

1 teaspoon salt, divided

1 teaspoon basil or oregano

1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid or 1 cup tomato sauce

Directions:

Soak the beans the night before or early in the day. To cook beans, soak them the night before. Or place in a quart of water, bring to a boil, cook 2 minutes, turn off the heat and leave covered for 2 hours. Drain. Place in fresh water and cook until tender, 30 minutes to one hour depending on the type of bean. When beans are done, drain and set aside.

While beans cook, prepare vegetables. Peel and dice the onion. Wash pepper, remove seeds and chop fine.

Heat oil in saucepan. Add onion and green pepper. Sprinkle with a half-teaspoon of salt, and cook 5 minutes. Peel garlic, mince, and add. Continue cooking a couple minutes more.

Add the rice, water and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and until rice is done and most of the liquid is absorbed (this will depend on the type of rice). Add tomatoes with their liquid, the basil or oregano, and the cooked beans. Continue cooking until rice is done and liquid is absorbed.

Option: Add a diced carrot when cooking the onions. Or add some greens, like kale, collards or mustards, when adding the tomatoes.

Serves 3 – 4. I like to serve this with a salad of fresh greens.

Pasta e Fagiole Skillet

White beans and pasta combine in this traditional Italian dish. For a soup, add more broth or liquid; for a pasta dish, add less.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup canelini or other beans

1 Tablespoon oil

1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)

4 ounces sliced mushrooms

1 carrot

1 stalk celery

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 or 2 cloves garlic

10 ounces green beans

1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained

Herbs – a pinch of sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano and / or basil

1 -2 cups diced ham, optional

4 ounces pasta

Parmesan cheese (for serving)

Directions:

Soak the white beans the night before or early in the day. To cook beans, soak them the night before. Or place in a quart of water, bring to a boil, cook 2 minutes, turn off the heat and leave covered for 2 hours. Drain. Place in fresh water and cook until tender, 30 minutes to one hour depending on the type of bean. When beans are done, drain and set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions; set aside.

While beans and pasta cook, prepare vegetables. Peel and dice the onion; clean and slice the mushrooms; Wash carrots and celery and slice. Peel and mince the garlic. Wash green beans and cut off stem ends.

Heat oil in large skillet; add onion, mushrooms, carrots and celery and saute about 7 – 8 minutes. Add garlic and green beans, a little broth or water to moisten, cover, and cook until beans are tender.

After about 10 minutes or when green beans are almost tender, add the cooked white beans, tomatoes, ham (if using), cooked and drained pasta, and sprinkle with herbs. Cook until heated through. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

For a soupier, saucier dish, add more broth when cooking the green beans and add pasta directly to the pot.

Serves 3.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on facebook at words are my world.

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