Cent’Anni (Italian for “May you Live 100 Years”)

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Garbanzo Cherry Tomato Salad

Maria Desiderata Montana is a local food writer who will be a new food contributor to the Entertainer. For her first posting,  Maria shares a perfect summer recipe that would be a definite favorite at your 4th of July backyard barbecue.

My father and mother were born and raised in Calabria, Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1957. Over the years, we celebrated food and drink with the salute of “Cent’Anni”, a traditional Italian toast meaning “May You Live 100 Years”.

It’s no secret that food is essential to the Italian culture and eating is a celebration of life itself. Blessed with strong Mediterranean affinities, I was given the gift of learning to grow and enjoy foods in their natural state from watching my father in his garden. A type of birthright, I learned how to respect tradition and embrace family ties through cooking. I guess you can say that Italian cooking starts in the heart and ends in the stomach!

Recounting the aroma of oven-baked bread, and the taste of succulent vine-ripened tomatoes paired with a chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese, there is nothing more satisfying than pure and simple Italian food as it was prepared and eaten in my parent’s homeland. Evidence is mounting that the healthiest diets are loaded with plant foods-vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains. Even the most down-to-earth ingredients, including something as simple as beans, can have a dramatic effect.

My parents live two miles from me and my mother is still sending me her important message of food being shared with family through her “bean day” tradition. She cooks fresh beans for my father every Tuesday without fail. Once a week she calls me early in the morning and tells me to come over and pick up a big bowl to take home.

The beans rotate in variety from week to week ranging from fava, garbanzo and lentils, to red kidney or white cannellini. I know I can just go buy a can of beans at the store, or prepare the beans myself, but there’s just something special about my little Italian mother soaking the beans overnight and cooking them for us. Plus, I think it’s her secret way of getting to see me more often.

Picking up the beans has become such an important ordeal, that if I can’t get them, my husband will stop by on his way home from work. If we get really desperate, we’ll even ask one of our teenagers to stop by grandma’s house. Of course, they give us the funny glances about how weird “bean day” is and how our Italian family should be on realty TV. But we just smile and reiterate the food and family ethic.

When I get the beans home, I get creative according to the bean type that came my way. Sometimes I mash the pinto beans and add fresh seasoning for bean burritos. It’s Pasta e Fagioli for the white cannellini beans and chili for the red kidney beans. Most of the time, I toss the beans into a green salad. Like my Italian relatives in the old country, I love to eat the garbanzo beans in a bowl with a touch of sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. My family likes my Garbanzo Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad (recipe below).

Versatile, inexpensive and good for you, beans are good news, especially in these tough economic times. Find a way to incorporate beans into your diet. I’m not sure why Tuesdays, but it’s our bean day … make it yours too!

Italian Garbanzo and Cherry Tomato Salad

(Makes 4 servings)

  • 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (see Note below)
  • 12 red cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup English cucumber with peel, washed and sliced
  • 1 scallion (green onion), finely chopped
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • ½ cup radicchio (Italian chicory), finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • Sea salt
  • White pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, (garnish)

In a large bowl, combine the garbanzo beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, basil and radicchio. Add the garlic, olive oil, lime juice and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss gently. To serve, spoon the salad onto a large serving platter. Garnish with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Note: To cook dried garbanzo beans, place dry garbanzo beans in a strainer and remove debris and any damaged beans. Rinse thoroughly under cool running water. Place the beans in a large saucepan, adding two to three cups of water per cup of beans. Soak the garbanzos in water for eight hours or overnight, placing pan in the refrigerator. Before cooking them, skim off any skins that floated to the surface, drain the soaking liquid, and then rinse them with clean water.

To cook the garbanzo beans, add three cups of fresh water for each cup of dried garbanzo beans. The liquid should be an inch or two above the top of the legumes. Bring them to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer, partially covering the pot. If any foam develops, skim it off during the simmering process. Cook beans until tender, about 1 to 2 hours. One cup of dried garbanzo beans yields approximately two cups cooked.

Maria’s Quick Tips:

  • If you substitute canned garbanzo beans, simply rinse and drain.
  • Add garlic, olive oil, lime juice and salt and pepper to the salad about 10 minutes before serving to allow all the flavors to set.

Maria Desiderata Montana is an award-winning food and wine journalist, editor, and published author based in San Diego. She gained an appreciation of European cuisine from her parents who were born and raised in Calabria, Italy. Visit her website at www.sandiegofoodfinds.com.

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