The Magnificent Pellegrini Bean: Grown at The Herbfarm
Ruth Reichl on Angelo Pellegrini
A Slow-Food Voice in a Fast-Food Nation
BY RUTH REICHL, SEATTLE WEEKLY, 4/14/10
We asked author and critic Ruth Reichl to share her thoughts on Angelo Pellegrini, for whom the Pellegrini Award is named.
When I was in college in the mid-'60s, I spent my spare time in a thrift shop called Treasure Mart, looking for old cookbooks. It was before most Americans had any interest in cooking, so I always left with my arms full.
The store kept piles of old magazines by the cash register, and while I was waiting to pay I usually pawed through them. One day, flipping through an ancient issue of Sunset, I was startled to discover a recipe for pesto sauce. I turned to the cover to look at the date: 1946. This was shocking; even then, in 1966, basil was an incredibly exotic herb. Yet this magazine, which was older than I was, offered instructions for turning it into a green sauce for spaghetti.
Years later I would discover that this was the first published pesto recipe in America. But at the time, all I wanted to know was who the strange person who had written the article might be. It turned out to be a man named Angelo Pellegrini, and I wanted to know more about him. I went right back to the bookshelf, unearthed a stained copy of An Unprejudiced Palate—and found that my life had changed. Pellegrini's book was not a cookbook in any ordinary sense. It was a manifesto for living the good life.
Pellegrini had emigrated from Italy at age 10, but, unlike so many immigrants, he cherished his roots. Although he turned himself into an English professor, in his heart he was a peasant. During the day he taught Shakespeare, but at home he gardened, fished, and cooked in a wood-burning oven.
He believed, passionately, that eating well was important. And in the time of TV dinners, Pellegrini's notions of how to do so were distinctly out of step with the rest of the world's.
Pellegrini believed in growing your own food, eating with the seasons, using your senses, and taking advantage of the bounty all around you. He ripped out his lawn and put in a garden. He ate nose to tail. He even made his own wine (with grapes supplied by his friend Robert Mondavi). His was a great voice—but it was about 70 years ahead of its time.It was a slow-food voice in a fast-food nation, but it did not go entirely unheard. Pellegrini's books—like The Food Lover's Garden; Lean Years, Happy Years; Wine and the Good Life; and The Unprejudiced Palate—developed a cult following, and had a profound effect on people like Alice Waters, Paula Wolfert, and myself.
Pellegrini believed that Americans would be the best cooks in the world if they only paid attention to the abundance all around them. He not only predicted the changes that would come, he helped make them happen.S eattle Weekly is very wise to honor the memory of this native son by establishing the Pellegrini Award, given annually to someone following in Pellegrini's very large footsteps. This year's winner, Chris Curtis, single-handedly started Seattle's Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which encourages everyone to eat the kind of fresh, local food that Pellegrini wanted us all to eat.
By all accounts, Angelo Pellegrini was an extremely unpretentious man. Although he was a perennial judge at the Los Angeles County fair, he once told a friend that when it came to wine, he took his grandmother's advice. "Wink," she told him, "if you like it."Wherever Angelo Pellegrini is right now, I'm sure he's winking.
A Slow-Food Voice in a Fast Food Nation:
Click to read Ruth Reichl on Pellegrini
Photo: Bob Peterson
Grow Pellegrini Beans this Season!
One Dozen Seeds, $5, incl postage, handling, taxes
Angelo Pellegrini wrote many books during his life. Some are still in print and those that our not are well worth seeking.
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GREEN BEAN OR SOUP BEAN: THE BEST WE'VE EVER GROWN. MEET...
BACK IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE HERBFARM RESTAURANT, a distinguished group of diners came to lunch. In that party were chefs Paul Bertolli, Alice Waters, and Professor Angelo Pellegrini, a noted culinary expert. Boy, were we scared!
At the end of the afternoon, "Pelle," as he was called, said that we did "pretty good" with the 6-course meal. Evidently this was "pretty good" praise for the then nearly ninety culinary legend, because Alice Waters remembers it as a "perfect day."
Pellegrini had come to America as a poor Italian child of ten. Unable to speak English, he studied hard at night and was soon skipping grades and winning spelling bees. He was the first in his family to attend college, studied law,and later got his PhD, becoming a beloved Professor of English at the University of Washington and a culinary writer of renown.
In the 1950's, the winemaker Robert Mondavi gave Pellegrini a handful of family beans from the old country. "Monachine," as he called them, meant "Little Nuns." Pellegrini turned his entire property into an edible landscape, even tearing out the lawn. The Monachine went in to his garden, and for over 50 years he faithfully grew the bean. So good were they, that it is said that he'd savor every bean one by one, mashing each with a fork and dabbing it in a whiff of olive oil.
Pelle went to that Great Garden in the Sky in 1991. Then some years ago, Angelo's son, Brent, gave us about 10 of the beans. Over the years, our farmer, Bill Vingelen, has scaled the bean harvest up each year so that we can finally serve them occasionally in the restaurant. In 2012, he planted 64 tepees of Pellegrini Beans numbering around 1000 plants, and finally have enough to feature them on the menu.
The Pellegrini Bean is among the finest stringless fresh bean we have ever tried. And the dried autumn beans are incomparable.
Because the Pellegrini Bean seed has been saved year after year in Seattle's climate, it has become perfectly adapted to the conditions of the Pacific Northwest.
We have only a few packets left to share. Order yours now for immeasurable pleasure in the garden this year. Call today or purchase via PayPal using the "BUY NOW" button above left. The beans come with the background story in a tiny booklet, too.
Note: In Seattle, Angelo Pellegrini always planted his beans on May 15, which is the last possible frost near Seattle. We have planted crops even in mid June with success. If you live farther south, you will be able to put them in the ground earlier.
"You can't help but applaud at the end." The FINANCIAL TIMES of LONDON
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