shove and dish


Some years back I smashed a pile of bowls. The bowls, seven or eight of them, were stacked biggest to smallest on a shelf in my kitchen in London until, one day, I decided to lean a large plate against the wall behind the pleasing pile. As I turned away I sensed a movement and spun back just in time to watch the plate, like a coin in a shove ha’penny machine, slide down and push the entire pile onto the floor. The bowls, mostly terracotta yogurt pots brought back wrapped in damp beach towels from trips to Greece and two bowls from Italy bought from Camden market, remained more or less in a pile only smashed into fierce segments. I remember staring at the pile, like a crude un-grouted mosaic, and then up at the smooth shelf wondering why on earth I balanced the plate before picking up the pieces and wrapping them in newspaper. It was only later that day, when I noticed the large plate that had slipped sitting flat on the shelf nonplussed, that I cried.

On Sunday I bought three dishes from Porta Portese market here in Rome; wide creamy-white bowls from Puglia with what look like tiny blue paw prints around the thick lip. I thought I’d struck a good deal, haggling him down from the initial 30 for the largest plate and 40 for the two smaller ones to 50 for the lot. Vincenzo took one look at the chipped edges and told me I’d been robbed and that never mind the trio, I could buy an entire orchestra of plates and dishes for the same price in Puglia. This didn’t dampen my clunking satisfaction at the three dishes, two of which were just like the bowls I’d lost, now wrapped in newspaper and in a blue plastic bag suspended across the push chair handles. Luca, usurped from his chair, chose a disturbingly realistic plastic crocodile from a bric-a-brac stall which he then swung at passers-by all the way home.

The bowls, the largest of which is almost as big as the kitchen table, have dominated all week. They have sat, one on top of the other just so, then in turn been filled with lemons with leaves, the first apricot-coloured nespole, oranges, strawberries (the strawberries have been superb this year), beans with tuna and hard-boiled eggs and green salad. Then on Thursday night, wanting to do little more that open a bottle of wine and boil something, I filled one of the bowls with fine green beans, ripped basil, loads of freshly grated parmesan cheese and olive oil for a supper so tasty I made it again for lunch the next day.


The key is good beans. I used fine fagiolini al burro, crackingly good, bright green things that cook, as their name suggests, into almost butter like tenderness. Key too, is putting the olive oil, grated cheese and ripped basil in the bowl first so the warmth and weight of the just cooked beans release the rich, spicy scent of the basil and encourage the cheese to mingle with the olive oil creating a granular dressing, a lazy pesto really, which you then bring up and over the beans. You finish off with more cheese, grated on the finest holes so it is dusty rather than stringy. If you are generous enough with the cheese and olive oil this is a much more substantial dish than you’d imagine and far too good to be sidelined. On Thursday we had it with bread, more parmesan in craggy chunks and lots of wine. On Friday we had it with burrata, which is best described as a bag or purse fashioned from mozzarella filled with rags of mozzarella in cream.

The bowls are now in a pile, on a low shelf, with nothing balanced behind.

Green beans with basil, olive oil and parmesan

serve 2

  • 5oo g fine green beans
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly grated parmesan
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves

Top and tail the beans and then boil them in lots of fast-boiling, well-salted water until they are tender but still with a little resistance.

While the beans are cooking pour a some olive oil into a shallow dish, grate over lots of parmesan and add the basil leaves ripped into smallish pieces.

Once the beans are ready drain them, wait a minute and then tip them into the bowl and toss everything together. Grate some more parmesan over the top and serve immediately.



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42 responses to “shove and dish

  1. I love reading your posts! Makes me miss Rome…

  2. Loved reading this story 🙂 The beans sound deliciously fresh and tasty too.

  3. Oh, I know those yogurt pots! Every time we go to France we bring a few more back, although we’ve never managed to be there when they’ve released the colored ones. It’s heartbreaking to break a dish you served or eaten wonderful food from – especially if it was one of your children’s favorites. When our kids got older, they took to drinking espresso with us, everyone fighting over who got “the good cup,” a striking member of a handmade rustic set from Provence. One day someone said, “Hey, where’s the good cup?” Our son stepped up and said, “I’m sorry. It slipped out of my hand while I was rinsing it yesterday.” Silence descended on the kitchen, until I said, “Well, we were lucky–it stayed with us for a long time.” Good luck with your new bowls.

    Lovely piece and GREAT recipe–I love the way subtle technique in your recipes elevate simple food. Ken

    • rachel

      Your good cup sounds just like the humus bowl, which wasn’t a humus bowl at all but one of the yogurt pots, wide and lipped I always served humus in but that my brother (who I lived with in London) had cereal in, a oft fought over bowl…it was one of broken ones. Simple yes, but good, especially with great beans and olive oil, hope you are both well? xo

  4. A great idea for lazy lunches, thank you. I always get stuck over lunch and end up having the same salad for days! Can’t wait to mop up all that cheesy, basily oil with some fresh bread xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua Italy

  5. Once again you have solved what to make for dinner. I too have carried almost every piece of pottery I own back from some far flung locale over oceans and in hand luggage. I love my miss-mash of plates and bowls and serving platters, each one with a memory of a place and time.

  6. I owned a set of these dishes — much more chipped and flawed than yours! I shipped them from Italy – bought almost 20 years ago in Ostuni market that we visited every weekend. I have only one left now and I cherish it. (mine with a rooster in the middle – and those same little pawprints around) I get you!

  7. Beautiful bowls and food!

  8. Eha

    Love your very simple bean recipe and must admit I do not always put the rest of the ingredients in the bowl first tho’ I know I should! Uhuh, have had a few totally unexpected crash-bangs also: you can see it happening, it seems to take forever and you can’t at that stage do a thing about it 😦 !!!

    • rachel

      you can of course put the ingredients in when you wish…xox. My life has been full of such crash-smashes…which of course makes space for new bowls x

      • Eha

        Great if and when you can just look and smile about the inevitable – am still trying to get ‘that far’ 🙂 !!!!!

  9. laura

    Simply elegant … your post and your recipe. Lovely how you manage to bring a recipe to life with your words and with your tales and that special tweak that makes both work so well.
    Thanks also to Ken (Jody and Ken) for his perfect reaction to the news of the loss of “the good cup”.

    • rachel

      I’m not sure I would have had such a measured response to the good cup… (she says clutching her morning good cup). thx as always xoxo

      • laura

        I know I wouldn’t have (had “such a measured response”) and I certainly wouldn’t have had that reaction to a smashed PILE … but it is good advice. And one can never have too many bowls, in my opinion.

  10. victoria2nyc

    Such a brilliant idea to put the seasonings in the bowl first! I will adapt the recipe I always use to do that. And I am DEFINITELY going to add feathery parmesan.

    The next time you roast a chicken, be sure to toss lovely cooked green beans in the fat. You will love me (or hate me) for that idea – it is delicious.

    And yes, thanks to Ken for sharing his lovely reaction to his son’s dropping the “good” cup. May I too be so gracious when faced with that kind of loss.

  11. Now you have me worried…I have plates propped up behind dishes in my china cabinet. Your green beans sound wonderful.

  12. Oh, it’s so sad when those pieces of crockery with their precious memories break. Yes, Ken’s reaction is so gracious and positive. And local beans and strawberries already? How wonderful! Love the recipe, though making it will have to wait awhile

    • rachel

      The beans have just arrived but the strawberries have been around for a while and they are superb this year…Yes, gracious ken, I would have been cursing…hope you are well M? xo

  13. Scorpacciata at its best! And your beautiful new/old bowls so remind me of many a delicious meal in Puglia, always served with that exact same pattern!

    • rachel

      Now I am thinking of meals in Puglia….I am hoping to visit this summer and find some ore paw print bowls. Rx

  14. Mnay years ago an ex built some shelves which housed the collection of china which my grandmother had given me years before. Some of it was older than her. One day, apropo of nothing whatsoever the whole lot came crashing to the ground. 85% of it was in bits. I still have the other 15%. I remember crying my eyes out over the broken bits which were irreplaceable. He, it turned out, was entirely replaceable. :0)

  15. Rachel! This made our dinner yesterday… Kids loved it as green beans can be eaten with hands, and the oily coating gives them endless non-gastronomic as well pleasures… to swirl it, draw on the table, etc…
    I share your feeling about your broken ceramic, and also your new ones… It had happened so many times in my life, not (so much) because of shelves but rather because of carrying them from one country to another (that is how much i care about them). And then i had to split one full set of square cups and plates bought in Prague with my ex. They didn’t break, but they split…
    My new ceramic infatuation is with the warm orange, red and blue patterns made in Santo Stefano di Canastro in Sicily. They sell them in Piazza Navona, but as Vincenzo said, I could probably buy three sets in Sicily with what i would pay here. We will see…
    A presto!

    • rachel

      yeah and yeah to eating with hands…..I am now curious about the warm orange, red and blue patterns made in Santo Stefano di Canastro in Sicily……off hunting. See you soon xox

  16. Helena

    Lovely beans and even lovelier dishes… I have some of these in my cupboard too, all bought from the Wednesday market in Martina Franca. My in-laws think I am all kinds of cuckoo when I show them my purchases. I have been disappointed for the past few summers as the lovely blue stripe around the edge has turned into a black stripe, so I have been hunting down the old fashioned ones at the Antiques market (Saturdays in the summer), to replace my broken ones. However the prices are hiked up by an even greater margin than what you paid for yours! So I reckon you got a great deal 😉

    • rachel

      I am longing to go to Martina Franca (I visit vicariously though the the blog nova storia listed on my sidebar) when I do finally visit I intend to but plates and dishes with stripes….I am still convinced I got a good deal, Vincenzo laughs each time I bring a dish out though Rx

      • Aleph

        Being from Puglia, I can confirm that you did not get a good deal on those plates! They are pretty though. I live in the US now and every time I go back home I think about bringing a few back, but the thought of extra weight in my luggage just discourages me…

  17. It is so lovely, isn’t it, how each piece in one’s home tells a story. I loved this x

    • rachel

      I am sure you have a pretty wonderful collected over the years in all the wonderful places you have lived. Now of course our next challenge is to keep them safe from two little lively boys xox

  18. This is lovely, Rachel. I love your assemblage (if such a word exists) of oil and parmesan on a plate, and all that has been before – your apricots and strawberries. Finishing with fine beans, as we all should. Been thinking of our missed meals in the interim – hope to catch up in London when I am next over x

    • rachel

      Hi S, I was think of you the other day having seen a picture from Honey and Co which got me thinking about the meal there and then you and then the 3 words about each cook…….sexy, clever, trashy……. Hope all is well and yes to catching up as soon as we can xoxox

  19. Emily

    These green beans are a revelation! Picked green beans from our garden, and this really elevated them — we made them two days in a row they’re so good! Thank you!

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