the same thing

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In the early 1980’s my grandparents decided to move from the North to the South of England. I loved Phyllis and John and was extremely happy – as we all were – that they were coming to live nearby. At the same time I felt real anxiety about my gentle Lancastrian grandpa and Yorkshire grandma moving from the reliable North Yorkshire market town they had lived in for 25 years, to our commuter town just North of London.

I remember the day they arrived for good, their mustard coloured car reversing up the drive, John in a tweed cap and driving gloves, the arm of his glasses dangling from his mouth, Phyllis hugging her handbag. Somewhere in the car there would have been a thermos flask, in it an inch of tea.

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I needn’t have worried, in no time they had established where to buy the cheapest petrol, Yorkshire tea, joined the library, several local associations and were on discussing-hiatus-hernia-terms with various neighbours over tea and fig rolls. They had also begun picking up my brother, sister and I from school once a week and then taking us to their garden flat where they would to give us tea then supervise homework until my Dad picked us up on the way home from work.

Running from Grandpa’s car up the garden path the smell of tea would greet us long before my grandma did at the front door. It was almost always the same: potatoes, carrots, onions and corned beef simmered into a stew called tattie hash which we would eat with buttered bread watching John Craven’s Newsround as the living room windows and my grandma’s specs steamed up in a comforting-claustrophobic way. My grandma would save a portion for my dad and it would sit, sweating under a plate hat, while we did our homework. When dad arrived he would balance his plate on his knee and watch the 7 o clock news. While he ate, my grandma would fuss, and Dad would tell her not to, even though I think he liked that she did.

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We loved all tattie hash as much as we loved our grandparents, and so when a school friend back for tea was rude about it, I was furious. As far as I was concerned it was beyond any sort of judgment, even less criticism. Tattie hash was like my grandma; comforting, straightforward, generous, warm and (most importantly) something you could count on.  It was also to be finished if you were to have pudding, which was mostly rice pudding or tinned peaches with evaporated milk, the fruit syrup curdling the milk, which sounds unsavory but isn’t. Or is it? Again, it was beyond criticism.

But then I did criticize. I was about 12 and in horrid mood the day I told my grandma that tattie hash was sloppy and boring, that only old people ate the same thing again and again. I wanted to take back the words as soon as they came out and I watched the hurt shoot across my grandma’s forehead like a crack. A few years earlier she would have said something sharp back, but not then. I said sorry many times, but it never felt enough.

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I still wish I could take the words back. While I was at it, I would also thank her for all the buttons sewn back on, holes in the elbows of jumpers darned, holes in knees plastered, purple fruit pastils saved and tell them both how important tattie hash Tuesdays were, those comforting-claustrophobic evenings in the maisonette flat on Cowper road. I would also tell them that after years of kicking against any sort of routine, I now like nothing more than making the same thing again and again; pasta and tomato sauce mondays, roast chicken tuesdays (which means chicken soup wednesdays). Pasta e fagioli Fridays.

Pasta and beans! Well that does sound exotic’  Phyllis might have said if she were still here.

That would give me heart burn‘ my grandpa might have said from the sofa (everything gave him heartburn).

Oh John, do give over! Pasta and beans sounds lovely Rach. Now lets have a cup of tea and you can tell me more about the part of Rome you live in, Testicles is it?’

‘Testaccio grandma, it’s called Testaccio. Well there is a market you would love and……’

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Pasta e fagioli too, is comforting, straightforward, generous, warm and (most importantly) food to be counted on. Which is why is I have written about it twice and mentioned it countless times here. This version is for fresh borlotti and fresh pasta and is one of my favorite things to eat.

Pasta e fagioli

400 g fresh borlotti beans (this about a kilo of beans in their pods)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
a sprig of fresh rosemary
500 g fresh tomatoes.
salt and pepper
300 g fresh egg pasta

Cover the beans with enough cold water that it comes at least 2 inches above the beans. Bring to a very gentle boil and then reduce to a simmer for 30 mins for until the beans are tender but still firm.

Meanwhile in a large, deep saute pan or casserole, warm the olive oil over a low flame, add the peeled and gently crushed garlic cloves and rosemary and fry them gently until fragrant. Peel and roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan, raise the flame just a little and cook the tomatoes for ten minutes until soft and saucy. Add beans and a ladleful of bean cooking water then let the pan bubble away for another 10 minutes. Season with salt generously.

Add another couple of ladleful of bean cooking water and then the pasta. Continue cooking, stirring pretty attentively until the pasta is tender. You may well need to add a little more water. Serve immediately and eat.

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Talking of Phyllis and John I wonder what they would have had to say about the cover of the book. Plenty, I imagine. It is – as you can see – a picture of my kitchen sink, a large quantity of apricots from my friend Jeannie’s tree, a scrubbing brush, a bottle opener, a bottle of limonata and a jam jar of parsley. Oh and a roll of kitchen towel, an enormous, useful thing that if I had thought twice about the picture, I might have moved. I am glad I didn’t. We looked at dozens of my pictures but this was the one –  snapped as I cooked one day – that we kept coming back to. Now cover chosen, writing done and pictures taken (all the food shots are mine taken in real time meaning meal time/ the beautiful and honest shots of Testaccio taken by brilliant Nick Seaton) the book just needs putting together. I say just! The publishing date in The UK is June next year but you can pre-order if you wish. The book will be published in the US in early 2016. Meanwhile I am looking forward to being back here a lot more.- R

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122 Comments

Filed under Beans and pulses, books, Rachel's Diary, Roman food, winter recipes

122 responses to “the same thing

  1. Lauren

    Too beautiful Rachel, I would have a very similar conversation with my Nana if she were still here too. Hears to Grandparents! who knew so much more than us even when we thought we knew everything. 💜

  2. Nadia

    Rachel, I can’t wait to buy your book!! About the cover, just my two pennies’ worth: I love the photo but not the grey panel. It’s a bit dispiriting, and your writing and this blog are anything but gloomy.

  3. Catherine

    Have only recently joined this blog. Have stayed in Testaccio so completely understand the appeal. I look forward to reading much more. Thank you

    • rachel

      It is great to meet people who know Testaccio as they inevitably ‘Get it’ the weird linear, bustling, everyday charm of the place. Thank you too. R

  4. The paper roll! I love it, and you know why. The cover is so honest, and true, and beautiful, and telling – and so in tune with your #whatsinthesinktoday! I love it just as much as this pasta e fagioli, which, being an ethusiastic eater of this soup for reasons of genes and heritage, I now must try with fresh pasta! Love lots x

    • rachel

      I have been having kitchen roll anxiety…..but then I remind myself that this is how my kitchen is, ordinary, functional and sometimes beautiful…so I suppose the book couldn’t be any other way. i still need to eat pasta e fagioli in veneto- see you soon Rxox

  5. Oooh, I’ll be ordering a copy. But not from Amazon, one of my true pet hates. I’ll pop into my local independent book shop this afternoon and have a chat with them. I think I’d have liked your northern grandparents too!

  6. Hooray! I cannot wait for your book. But 2016 seems so terribly far away … I’m sure your grandmother forgave you; as I’ve recently witnessed, the love grandparents have for their grandchildren is fathoms deep. (Still, I have been there and have on occasion heard words coming out of my mouth that I wished I could have grabbed and stuffed back in immediately. Such is life.) Lovely stories, lovely recipe, and lovely soon-to-be book. Congrats to you!

  7. Love the cover Rach, it is so domestic and the kitchen roll is a
    sign of your photos’ honesty and ‘unstyled-ness’. As for the smell of grandmas’ dinners…..an overwhelming smell of peas; we had chicken with peas and potatoes every time.

  8. Natascha

    Lovely, will give that a go, thank you! Made me a bit teary somehow and think back to my own grandma where I’d eat lunch once a week after school. (This was in Germany, so Schnitzel, fried potatoes, carrots, every Wednesday,without fail.). I’d never cook like that for my own family, but I miss it.

    • rachel

      I think I would have like the schnitzel and I love that fact that we all share such similar, ordinary and extraordinary memories Rx

  9. Ben

    I love tattie hash. And I love you cover Rach.

  10. GARETH JONES

    Great Pasta e Fagioli (thunder and lightening) piece and love the book cover. Bravo Rachel Roddy! XX

    • rachel

      I love the name thunder and lightening, make it sounds dangerously good…..which it is. Thanks G, means much coming from you x

  11. Beautiful! I can’t wait to see the finished product! Brava Rachel!

  12. Woo hoo! Now that is exciting. It’s a great cover and I can’t wait to get my copy. Roll on June! I am sure your granny didn’t mind your comment really. It probably hurt for a small moment but I am sure she remembered feeling something similar herself as she slipped into her teenage years. We all do it and we all regret it but it’s also when we see the child becoming a woman, even if it is in a sulk. Peaches with evaporated milk was a regular pudding in our house too. The girls still have the peaches but I haven’t introduced the evap milk. Perhaps I should. Well done on all that hard work with the book. I imagine you are taking a big sigh of relief before starting on the next one.😉 x

    • rachel

      thanks so much Kath and also for inadvertently reminding me it was evaporated milk not condensed milk (although we had that too, only not on peaches). I am taking a breather, of sorts, still lots to do, but isn’t there always….I do hope you are all well? lots of love R

  13. Michael

    Rachel, delighted you’ve included such a splendid recipe for fresh borlotti beans. Sometimes I get the same delicious tomatoes here in Galicia. I bottle or dry some of the summer surplus so never have to use a tin. What a difference it makes. Simplicity and love are the hallmark of good cooking. And it’s the simple things in life that always bear repeating, lessons you obviously learnt at your granny’s knee. Hurrah for the book and the cover!

    • rachel

      M – I absolutely agree, simplicity and love all the way and yes my grandma taught me lots and I will always be grateful for that. R

  14. Wonderful and captured exactly, thank you. I think I’ll call my Mema today.

  15. bea

    Rachel – I love your blog. I’ve been reading you for years now, and learned quite a few good tips here. My carbonara and my pasta with olive oil and lemon are from your blog, along with gnudi, and quite a few other things. I love that you are writing a book and I’ll be waiting to get a copy!

    • rachel

      Hi Bea and this is the nicest sort of message. So happy you enjoy reading and cooking along and thank you for taking the time to tell me x

  16. Chris

    Oh, yay! I love your blog and am looking forward to buying your book when it comes to the U.S.!

  17. I wonder who remembers those sharp words of ours longest, the person on the receiving end or us. Beautiful read Rachel. As for the book cover, to anyone who follows your blog it makes perfect sense – and it’s just right.

    • rachel

      Thanks E….i have had a few ‘Well you can’t put a kitchen roll of the cover?’ to which I think, well we did. thanks for the vote of confidence it means much from you, love and see you soon xo

  18. elizabeth

    auguri rachel!! i love the cover and the idea of tattie hash but i would add horseradish too. xx

  19. victoria2nyc

    I LOVE your book cover – I can picture myself standing next to you at your kitchen sink – and will, of course, pre-order it from Amazon UK so that I have it for my June birthday! I have a lot of English cookbooks, and, therefore, have English measuring cups because “a pint’s a pound the world around – except in England and am right now struggling with adapting a real Victoria Sponge for the American kitchen without resorting to trekking to Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street to get Be-Ro Flour. Our self-rising flour has salt in it; Be-Ro self-raising doesn’t, and the flour I use, King Arthur, is high protein and much better for pasta than it is for cake. I haven’t been able to find the protein content of Be-Ro so I am doing a lot of messing around – and making a lot of cake – trying to get it right.

    I also really love this post filled with your tangible memories. They are haunting, and the beauty of your writing for me is that it sends me back to my own childhood where memories of my grandfather’s house in England are suffused with the sight and scent of roast lamb, cauliflower, and perfectly roasted potatoes for Sunday lunch, weekday dinners at noon of Swiss steak swimming in pools of dark, savory (savoury if you must) gravy, and afternoon tea consisting of fresh eggs, cooked so the whites were set and the yolks were liquid, Cheshire cheese, green onions, cherry tomatoes, and Hovis bread sliced thin and lightly buttered.

    In New York, my American grandmother lived in the same house with us, and I was close to her from the time she was 50 years old, when I was born, until she died at age 93. Once I grew up and married a man whose job caused us to regularly move around the country, she visited me wherever I lived. In Kansas City I had some “special” cups used only for Irish Coffee, and she broke one in the sink. I can never forget that I yelled at her, and even though I apologized many times, I am still ashamed that I hurt the feelings of the woman I so loved.

    Congratulations on the book! We are all waiting for it.

    • rachel

      Well I look forward to the day you are standing next to my cooker….squashed, it is all very small and there will probably be a little boy rolling on the floor. Vic, your comments and thought are one of the lovely things about writing here, it really does make feel like a little community and I thank you very much for that. lots of love Rx

  20. laura

    Whoopee! And Hip, hip, hooray! And EVVIVA! SO thrilled to be getting so close to having you in my home.
    And lucky, lucky us to have had grandparents and wonderful memories with them. I am convinced they know when we remember them.
    Thank you.

  21. Brilliant as usual, Rachel. So happy to see one of your great photos from #whatisinthekitchensinktoday on the book cover. It is going to be so hard to wait until 2016! Love and best wishes. M

  22. This post, for whatever reason, reminded me of that scene in the film Shirley Valentine, when her husband explodes because he can’t stand that Tuesday night is egg and chips night. I find it’s a struggle, every week, between the competing urges to have something comforting and simple after a long day and the desire to express yourself somehow after another functional, but nondescript step through the week.

    Many congratulations on the book cover. It looks wonderful. Can’t wait for the book!

    • rachel

      ha, yes, i remember that scene well. I am not sure how the heck you two make the al the wonderful for you of with two little people running( tearing) around……bloody good taste and a show of determination I imagine (possibly a glass of wine too). Hoping next year happens v much xox

  23. The cover looks lovely! I love both your blog and instagram because of those real time images and find them very inspirational.

  24. Hurrah! They would be very proud. xxxx

  25. A sweet story about your granparents, we all harbor regrets but your grandparents loved you and you loved them. I like the cover of your new book and can’t wait to order it.

  26. It looks so beautiful Rachel! And we share a publication month🙂 Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy x

  27. Betta

    Congratulations Rach! Does amazon.co.uk ship to Italy? I am so excited I want to pre-order now! WOW! WOW! WOW! So thrilled!
    Betta

  28. The memories of your grandparents remind me so much of mine, a small set of comforting foods that were quintessentially them when I was growing up. Wonderful memories. The cover of your book is gorgeous too, I think it perfectly sums up your natural, unpretentious style. It will be on my shopping list.

  29. Two of my favorite days of the week are Monday (fish for lunch) and Saturday (liver for dinner) because I know just what we’ll be eating. Maybe I’m getting old, but I do love routines! This was a lovely post, and I especially enjoyed a close up look at the book cover!

    • rachel

      Saturday liver – I am coming round, it has been ages and I love it, how do you serve it? and thank you. Hope you are all well? xox

      • I always bread it (lately I’ve been using coconut flour) because it’s a bit ugly when it’s fried naked. I serve it with onions, bacon if I’ve got it. A little pink in the middle – bring on Saturday! We are all well. Kaya is enjoying school life and I’m enjoying the return of rain – good for the lettuces.

  30. Lisa Nkrumah-Mweu

    I love your writing…there is always a beautiful flow and rhythms to the words. Congratulations on your book – you really are inspirational.
    All best, Lisa xx

  31. Hooo-RaaaY. I’ve been so wanting to see this cover–captures the spirit of Rach in Rome.

    Last week, I taught my group of women at Magdalene House (women in recovery from drugs and sex trafficking) how to make Pasta e Fagioli. Not with fresh pasta! But as a dish that they could count on–words exact. Simple, cheap, abundantly nutritious and comforting. Also something to build on.
    But, back to Five Quarters
    So proud of you. You’ve done marvelous work. Take a breath while “they” put it all together. xN

  32. Rosemary

    Love this story and this recipe and how excellent that your book is on its way! However, 2016 for us Americans?!? That’s awfully far away. I may have to order it from overseas before then….

  33. Hilary

    oooh, the cover is perfect, I am so excited for you!! Lovely post about your grandparents xx

  34. This recipe sounds like the sort of thing I would enjoy. Adding it to my “cook soon” list. But what I really enjoyed about this post are the wonderful memories of your grandparents. So nice. Good luck with the book. I love that your photos are taken at mealtime and not part of some elaborate set up. Would be curious to hear more about how you capture such good photos in real time (when the sun has gone down, for instance).

    • rachel

      Hi Lindsay……the meal time was lunchtime so light was not a problem but yes they were shot as we ate, no fussing or styling really. The best advice I was ever given about pictures was, drag the table into the nicest light and make the most of soft spring and autumn days xox

  35. Gadia

    My eyes are stinging a little from that post. Hits close to home. I would buy your book for the cover alone, but lucky us, I know there will be so much love and life and good food between the covers. Looking forward. Thank you.

  36. Eha

    I am a Gemini baby also and cannot wait for this to be published . . . perchance a few more months ere Amazon will see my order if it is able and willing to ship to Australia . . . sadly had to go the long way with a volume in which a piece of myself was embedded just a month or two ago from the United States !! . . . Do like the cover and am certain shall more than like everything inside !!!

  37. Sarah

    I’m so looking forward to your book! This post made me think of my own Northern grandma, who was a regular maker of tattie hash. She always made it at the start of the week with leftover meat from the Sunday roast.

    • rachel

      I could eat a serving of tattie hash now…I think phyllis used to make it our of left over roast to from time to time…it was all about making do and making the most of everything, things I used to dismiss but now value v much. x

  38. Feeling a little emotional now. Lovely memories. We all say things we regret but that’s one of life’s lessons. Learning that words cannot be taken back so it’s best not to say anything at all. Love the book cover – it’s entirely you and what you are all about! It is taking far to long to put together though – or it’s something to look forward to in the cold, dark days ahead…

    • rachel

      it is taking a v v long time…..But yes, nearly there, nearly, thanks so much for all the support, comments and the general loveliness you bring here xox

  39. This post brought tears to my eyes… loved the story, love pasta e fagioli and love the picture you chose: se real, true, authentic… as is your voice, what you have to say.

  40. This post swept me away as your writing always does. The pasta too, looks so comforting. I’m sure your book will be wonderful……I think I’m looking forward to it more than I have any other recipe book (although I know it will be much much more). I do agree with one of the other readers about the grey panel though (in case you are looking for opinions). The picture is lovely but perhaps a richer or deeper grey panel?

  41. I like to think that my grandchildren will think of me fondly when they get older. We always (at their request) have ‘roll’ which is a baguette with ‘Pops’ jam which is usually blcakberry & apple jelly, walks on their favouite beach and plant seeds in the greenhouse. Small people like the comfort of the repetitive – as you quite rightly say it gives them a sense of security and the familiar. I absloutely love being a granparent – and long may the three of them want to come round for bread and jam!

  42. favourite story. got a bit teary actually!

  43. I don’t think I can wait until 2016, I’m going to have to try to pre-order the UK version without a doubt.

  44. What a beautiful post! Your memories certainly pulled the heart strings. Congratulations on the book and I look forward to buying one!

  45. I love this – the story, your grandparents, the cover, the kitchen towel – all of it. I know I’ll keep saying it over and over again until the book is out but congratulations once more xo

    • rachel

      Thanks G and hope you are al settled back after your seriously wonderful US adventures (which I followed on instagram like a stalker) xox

  46. Amber

    Hi Rachel, your post has stirred up so many memories…sigh.
    Love the cover of the book. I think it is a perfect, visual representation of the easy, cosy but very honest style of your blog and I can’t wait to buy it.
    On another note, could you guide me to a good arrabiatta recipe? If this is a genuine Italian sauce of course! And I have probably mis-spelled the name in any case.

  47. Loved this sweet post.
    Can’t wait for your book!

  48. Jennifer G.

    What a lovely post and I’m certainly looking forward to the cookbook release! I have an unholy love of beans, but have always relied on a local restaurant (Enzo on Ostiense) for my pasta e fagioli fix until now! Thank you for the perfect recipe.

    • rachel

      I have never tried Enzo (we are just down the road in Testaccio) but will. happy you like the v domestic cover and thank you

  49. Aleph

    Giovedì gnocchi?🙂
    Congratulations on the book, I love the cover. I can’t wait to get it when it gets published in the US. Also the stories about your grandparents made me cry… I think about my own grandparents a lot lately, and about all the things I wish I had told them when they were still around.

  50. I read this and was excited about making it, but wondered when I’d get the chance because I’ve never seen fresh borlotti when out shopping – then I went to the market on Saturday, and what was there? Borlotti beans. I love it when these things work out!

  51. What a wonderful, evocative post. I so enjoyed reading it. Will surely be buying your book xxx

  52. Rachel I am so excited to have a copy of your book. Pieces like these feel like a breath of fresh air. What a beautiful narrative. I have some moments like those I wish I could take back. And we know they know (or knew) how much we love them, but still… Gorgeous. All the best with putting the book together, what a time! X
    ps I so want a mustard coloured car one day

  53. Hello Rachel, this is a beautiful post.
    I would like to try that recipe, but before I can do it, I have a question:
    HOW did you made the dough for the pasta?
    regards

    • rachel

      Thanks so much and it was a basic soft flour/egg pasta (my ratio is 100 g flour to 1 egg). I work the dough for at least 10 mins before rolling and cutting it. Hope that helps Rx

  54. rachel

    Hi There, I am always happy to answer questions – Pls send me an E mail with any more questions and also linking to your thesis as I would prefer to keep the comments on topic. very best R

  55. This post was so lovely it made me cry. I’m pretty sure that your grandparents would be incredibly proud of you. Love the cover. Can’t wait to cook from the book. Congrats! xo

  56. I love how beautifully rendered the story behind this dish is. My nan was (and still is!) a huge inspiration to my cooking too – she used to make a minced beef and potato pie which was simple but a real family favourite. Gawd bless the grandparents🙂

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