Beans Ahsa Lu: An Italian Depression Dish

My family stems from several European countries but if you asked me about my heritage, the response would be simple: I’m Italian. It’s not that I have less pride for my Irish or German counterparts, they just play a much smaller role in my conscious identity. In part I attribute my Italian juxtaposition to my hometown Darien, Connecticut, which served as home to many Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. Among those immigrants were my father’s grandparents, and the Brunos are still widely considered an “old-time Italian family” in Darien today.

Uncle David & his "Italian Combo"

My grandmother and grandfather had 4 children, only 1 of which married another Italian  –yet mealtime still revolved around all things Italian: braciole, bruschetta, pasta e fagioli…we love it all. Days after my grandfather passed away this February, my father and I took a trip to his favorite restaurant, Dominick’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. My father wanted the restaurant’s owners, who had become dear friends of my grandfather’s over the years, to know that he had passed. Our meal at Dominick’s was bittersweet and we welcomed the inevitable memories of my grandfather that flooded the tiny restaurant.

Grandpa & Grandma: Younger than I remember either of them, but this photo shows just the kind of love they had for each other.

For holidays and special occasions it was always my grandmother who was in the kitchen, but on a rare instance you could find my grandfather cooking some classic Italian dishes. On an unthinkably muggy day in July he taught me to make one of his favorites, Beans Ahsa Lu, that he learned while stationed in Italy during WWII. My grandmother wrote the recipe for me here:

Beans Asa Lu, as you can read above, is what my grandparents call a “Italian Depression Dish” because it uses inexpensive, basic ingredients. This recipe makes several servings (I plan to share with a class of 10) and costs around $5 total. You’ll notice my grandmother didn’t write any specific measurements, which tempted me to get her back on the phone at first. In the end I went with my gut (tasting each step to decide whether or not to add this or that), and although it doesn’t taste as good as grandpa’s, it turned out delicious.

1. Parsley 2. Italian Bread (preferably stale!) 3. Salt & Pepper 4. Red Crushed Pepper 5. Dry Northern White Beans 6. Olive Oil 7. Celery Leaves

Rinsing the beans after soaking overnight, a process which seemed rather stone-age in our current era of microwaveable meals and “just add water” desserts.

Chopping up the celery leaves & parsley. (Hint: celery leaves can be found at the heart of the stalk).

Cooking the beans, photo was taken once beans were soft enough to serve.

Serve beans on top of stale Italian bread with red crushed pepper & olive oil!

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16 Responses to Beans Ahsa Lu: An Italian Depression Dish

  1. Melissa says:

    Great job Steph!!! Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t wait to make this and share this story with Jules and Ty. xo

  2. Mom says:

    Congratulations on such a wonderul food blog! I especially love the photos and can’t wait to try this recipe!
    ps…don’t forget your mom’s FRENCH heritage too! Sorry we didn’t have some great recipes like this for you. Food was never a big deal for us growing up…too bad! 🙂

  3. PB & J says:

    Haha, don’t take it personally Madre!! You made some great dishes growing up, I just wanted to pay a tribute to Gramps! ❤

  4. Aunt Mary says:

    Hi Steph!
    I LOVE your food blog and what a wonderful tribute to your grandfather! My favorite part of your blog is the pictures. Keep up the good work! xoxo Aunt Mary

  5. This was so delicious, and your grandparents are absolutely adorable. I’m so sorry for the loss of your grandfather- this is a lovely way to pay tribute, and I’m sure he’d be very proud.

  6. Peter says:

    Awesome job Steph! What a great tribute to your grandfather!!!

  7. mattyice238 says:

    I really enjoyed your family story, it gave me a sense of what your family is like. The pictures were great, especially the one of your grandparents and the one of your uncle. Just a really good project overall.

  8. Queen Punzie says:

    Ok princess, this is grams…fantastic job on the recipe I sent you. The picture looks good enough to eat! You will make quite a chef…the lucky boy who gets you… Much love xo

  9. Dad says:

    Hey it me Padre love the blog it’s sooo good. The pics r really good and your writing is great. Can’t wait to see the next one. Love you 😉

  10. jcgiacomi says:

    I really like the photos of your grandparents from the 70’s or 80’s. I also really like the handwritten note, which was really original. I like that you where about to call your mother up to see what the measurements where but then you just went with your gut which is what a lot of older chefs do and just taste each step. I also like how you use the “what you need” app thing. I don’t know what its called. It makes your shopping list easy hehe. I also like that you have a final shot. In the end I did like how it tasted and I liked learning about your heritage.

  11. Brittany says:

    This recipe is amazing! I love the story behind it with your grandpa, who lived in Italy, as well as you making it yourself.

    What makes me particularly interested in your meal is that celery leaves are required, not stalks. It makes me think that this would be an awesome sustainivore meal, especially since you can glean stale bread from bakeries, and beans are a great bulk food item! Thanks for giving me another Italian recipe for my cookbook. (peanut butter pie?)

  12. Chris Chef says:

    I don’t want to make it seem like I have favorites but this is my favorite blog post in the class yet. No joke. And to top it off I really enjoyed the dish in class. You have a lot of personality that really comes out in your writing. This post had everything. Great shots of your family in the past (uncle and grandparents). That sweet box of pics displaying all of the ingredients. And of course the recipe itself which I feel confident I could make after reading the blog. pimpin pimpin.

  13. katedarden says:

    stephanie! i loved this project, it was definitely my favorite one that you have done so far. the pictures were perfect especially the oldies of your gparents and uncle. i also really liked the story behind the recipe it was really unique!

  14. Nick Ryan says:

    I really enjoyed this. The beans had a delicious flavor and taste. I really liked the red peppers and olive oil drissled on top. Good job.

    You should try and make your uncle’s italian combo sub for our next project haha

  15. PB & J says:

    Thanks everyone for the lovely comments!

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