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Monday, February 20, 2012

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean soup)

In the US most Italian-Americans call this Pasta Fazul. This is probably because most of their ancestors come from the southern tip of the Italian boot, and this is the translation of their dialect.  That pronunciation isn’t Italian.  It is really pronounced Pasta Fa-jo-li.

This is another peasant dish.  Both delicious and nutritious, and no longer just for peasants, you find it in restaurants all over the City.  I love this dish.  It’s perfect on freezing winter afternoons.  Plus, the second day you can either rehydrate it as a soup (the pasta drinks all the liquid) or you can eat it with a fork, it’s a totally different meal.

The pasta you use should hold the sauce.  Great pastas to use are: Conchigliette (small shells), Funghini (little mushrooms), Orecchiette (little ears), Ditalini (small tubes), Quadrefiore (square flowers),  and Gomiti or Chifferi (elbows). Cooking times vary for these, but be sure they are al dente (firm to ‘the teeth’) because they will continue cooking in the soup, and nobody wants mushy pasta.

I use a vegetable base to accompany the tomatoes, but feel free to use a beef or chicken base.  When I have the ends of the Parmigiano Reggiano left I put them in a ziplock bag and freeze them.  When I make the base for Pasta e Fagioli, I throw them in.  They add lots of cheesy flavor.

This is a super dish on cold winter night. Serve it with a crusty Italian pane integrale (whole grain bread) and plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano and if you have any leftovers, don't be surprised to see someone in your family with a bowl of cold Pasta e Fagioli for breakfast! 


Friday, February 3, 2012

Spaghettata di Mezzanotte (aglio olio e peperoncino)! Midnight Spaghetti Party!

I grew up at the Jersey Shore. Like most young people from that part of NJ my friends and I would end up at the Ink Well in West End for coffee and eggs after a night of doing whatever it was we did. It was the very cool place to be, dark, smoky and filled to the brim with the late nighters.

There really are very different
qualities when it comes to pasta
 In Italy it’s not eggs and coffee, it’s spaghetti with garlic and oil and crushed hot pepper - aglio olio e peperoncino.   I learned about this when Marcella Del Signore, la mia amica, a tiny whirling dervish from Umbria (Lugnano in Teverina), her boyfriend Emanuele Cimica, his cousin Velasco Cimica and the lovely Gabriella De Angelis and I spent a weekend at my sister's mountain house in the Poconos.
We spent a good part of the evening sitting around a computer downloading Beatles songs and singing to help Gabriella learn English (singing is a great way to learn a language).  In the wee hours of the night, Marcella yelled out 'Spaghettata di Mezzanotte!' and everyone (except me) started moving.  What was going on?

Marcella started chopping garlic, Emanuele sliced bread, Velasco found a chestnut roaster by the fireplace and put the bread into it to make bruschetta in the fire place and Gabriella took the hunk of Parmigianino Reggiano from the refrigerator and put it on the table with some plates and forks and napkins.

I kept asking what they were doing and they kept answering 'Is a spaghettata!' OK. Is a spaghettata

 It was a midnight spaghetti dinner, spaghetti with garlic, oil and crushed hot pepper.  Delicious.  And with olive oil from the olives grown at Marcella's family home in Lugnano, it is the very best.  

View from Casa Del Signore
Lugnano in Teverina, Italy
My apartment became the place for my friends, gli Italiani, to gather for meals, incluing midnight spaghetti dinners.  Evenings filled with laughter, music, arms flying, wine and always ending in caffe and Limoncello.  It spread from a favorite of gli Italiani to becoming a favorite of our whole group of friends, the latest being my nephew Ryan and his friend Jeff.

Try it.  Instead of heading to the Blue Swan Dinner, or the Viand Coffee shop late at night, or even instead of Fiorello’s, have everyone to your house and have a Spaghettata di Mezzanotte! It's fast, it's cheap, it's super easy, and DELICIOUS!