Organic Beans and the Roots of All Wisdom

The challenge was a simple one. Friends visiting us on holidays didn't believe they could taste a difference between organic and non-organic produce. Is it only about saving the world, assuaging a guilty conscience, appearing "chic" with the newest upscale certification on the label at a dinner party? What is real? And in an age of big houses full of every appliance man can dream up, should I prioritize my dollars for that big Wolf super-stove, or should I spare my pennies for an organic, locally grown tomato?We immediately put the questions to test. First, the perfect recipe: a simple traditional dish which can show off the qualities of a limited number of ingredients was needed. As the question arose during holiday in a cold, stone Italian farmhouse equipped with the same cooking utensils and equipment available a century ago, the natural choice was Pasta e Fagioli. Parallel production of two pots of stew commenced. And the philosophical reflections bored deep into my soul.

I have read that the proportion of waste generated in a household can be correlated with the number of ingredients used in the traditional cooking. Cooking Italian menues certainly makes this clear. With similar ingredients popping up at every meal, a standard cupboard rarely contains any basics past their expiration date. And the meal of choice usually focuses on which specialty ingredients could be purchased fresh that day.

Touching the food, laboring over the food, especially in the company of good friends and delightful conversation: is this one of the finest experiences in life? With appetites thus whetted, we sat down to double-blind taste test the product of our efforts. The results were unanimous: the organic beans regaled the palate with subtle nuances and harmonic balance. Winner by a wide margin.

Now, the natural problem with repeating this experience outside of Italy is that the concept depends upon finding local produce, fresh and flavorful. The experience requires a relaxed environment where cooking is a pleasure and not merely a chore to be squeezed in after the seven habits of successful management and before the laundry and helping the kids with the homework. But the question was clear: is there some important quality of life missing from our wealthy, high-achieving, productive, developed civilization?

The answer is in a can of beans. Like all wisdom, it is easy to know and hard to practice.


P.S. In case you are interested, the recipe for the Pasta e Fagioli test case follows:
Soften three cloves of garlic in olive oil. Add approx. ¾ can (300 g or 10 oz.) of tomatoes to the softened garlic. Reduce the tomato mixture to a paste. Briefly increase the heat on the pan and mix a generous ½ cup of white wine into the tomato garlic paste. Add one can (400 g or 14 oz.) of borlotti beans (do not drain) and mash while cooking. Late in the cooking, add a second can of borlotti beans. Break or cut pasta sheets into irregular shapes. and cook in the beans. Shortly before serving, add a lot of fresh parsley. Serve with grated pecorino mezzo fresco. Serves 4-6.