P.C.Pop with Pablo

My Story of Pasta Fazool

In Family, fatherhood, Food, health, Italian, parenting, Summer for Renewal, Uncategorized on August 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm


Pasta Fazool aka Pasta e Fagioli — This is My Story


Pasta e Fagioli is one of those dishes in my family that popped up every now and then — and everyone loves it. Later in life I was given more insight into this simple Italian meal from my Grandmother, Phyllis. If I hadn’t lived with my grandmother for a while in college, I might never have heard some of these stories about our family, our heritage, our Pasta e Fagioli. When I was accepted into college my family didn’t have a lot of disposable income to support me 100% — so, I made some tough decisions to make college more affordable. First decision was to attend a regional campus of UConn to save some money.  Commuting to the Hartford regional campus would allow me to live at home and pay a fraction of the cost of tuition/fees compared to the main campus. By the time the first day of classes rolled around I unfortunately no longer had a working car. Just getting to the campus every day was a challenge. I did various things to get back and forth and for part of that time I lived with my grandmother. My grandmother lived in the south-end of Hartford and the UConn Hartford campus was on the west-side of Hartford — actually in West Hartford. I soon became a city kid and got comfortable taking the bus everywhere.

My new home was in one of the oldest Italian neighborhoods in Connecticut. Franklin Avenue is a well-known center of the Little Italy of Hartford — and I live right on Franklin Avenue in an apartment with my grandmother. The street level of her building was one of the best Italian grocery stores on Franklin Avenue and directly across the street from one of the best Italian bakeries in the city. It was a very walk-able neighborhood — everything you needed was within walking distance and downtown Hartford was only a 20 minute bus ride away. My grandmother did not drive or own a car either but never struggled getting by on Franklin Avenue. At this point in her life my grandmother was retired but still very busy. I soon realized that during the day through early evening she had a definitive routine.

My grandmother’s routine was driven by “her shows.” Her first soap opera came on at 11 a.m. so everything had to be done by then. She got up and made breakfast. One of my favorites was French toast made with Italian bread. She often ate hers with salt and pepper — not maple syrup. Once breakfast was done, my grandmother planned the menu for the day and then went shopping for fresh bread and everything else she needed for lunch and dinner. She enjoy really fresh food, so she shopped every day at the small grocery store downstairs, the bigger grocery store a block away, and one of the several bakeries on Franklin Avenue. Her options of places to shop increased on Wednesdays because she walked a couple of blocks up Bond Street to attend early morning mass at St. Augustine’s. My grandmother worked very hard all morning planning the meal, shopping, tidying up the apartment, and making lunch. Her ultimate goal was to be settled in her chair in the TV room with her lunch ready to eat at exactly 11 a.m. when her first soap opera started. The dinner she planned would be pretty traditional with an Italian flair but lunch was consistent — a sandwich and a side dish. My grandmother used fresh Italian bread, fresh deli meat, and fresh cheese usually provolone. She then prepared a hot side dish. Although for most this would be just another lunch — but to my grandmother it was an inspired work of art made with love. The sandwich was toasted or grilled and was a masterpiece.  The side dish could be almost anything like a simple soup (chicken noodle, turkey rice, split pea & ham, minestrone), vegetables (ratatouille or grilled vegetables like peppers, onions, squash, zucchini), pasta (risotto, pastina), or creamy polenta with grated cheese and/or tomato sauce. I learned a great deal about cooking and planning meals during these times. My grandmother shared little tricks and techniques and soon I knew how to turn a good sandwich into a great sandwich.

Most of the time, my grandmother was so focused on getting settled for her soap opera TV show, that there wasn’t much time for chatting. But I learned that if I listened carefully, I could learn a lot. She not only taught me about food but also would tell me the story behind the food. One of my favorite stories is how this is the food that the poor people at in Italy. Most of the ingredients of her side dishes were inexpensive, grown in the garden or from left-overs from dinner. As I mentioned in another blog, we rarely went out to eat at an Italian restaurant because they served we could make better, fresher and much less expensively — for pennies. As Italian chain restaurants started to pop up and become popular it amazed my grandmother that they offered and charged a lot for Italian “peasant” dishes like polenta, pastina, risotto, Pasta e Fagioli, and even pizza with homemade pizza dough.

Another story was about Pasta e Fagioli. Pasta e Fagioli is the ultimate poor-family meal. Among her friends when she was a kid, Pasta e Fagioli was made at the end of the week with the left overs from the entire week. Pasta e Fagioli literally translates into “pasta and beans.” So technically any soup that includes pasta and beans can be called Pasta e Fagioli. It is a delicious, hearty meal that you could make with everything you had on hand. Pasta e Fagioli can include meat but it can also be a vegetarian meal. Now you have to be careful with old time Italians because even though it was served vegetarian most of the time in my family — the flavor in the broth came from pork. A hunk of salt pork, some bacon fat or a ham bone was often used to add flavor. Salt pork or bacon fat was used when sautéing the onions and celery and if you had a ham bone on hand you would include it with the water or broth when you begin simmering the soup.  You then add the first of the two main ingredients — the beans. It can honestly be any bean you like but in my family it was typically kidney, chick peas, canteloni beans or some combination of the three. After an hour or so of simmering, remove the hunk of pork and ham bone and add beans and pasta. My favorite is a mini tube pasta called ditellini. Others in my family prefer a bow-tie pasta. I think you get the idea — frugal families would take all of their leftovers for the week (including hunks of salt pork and bones), add rough-cut vegetables, onions, celery, garlic, broth/water and the magic ingredients — pasta and beans.

Pablo’s Pasta e Fagioli Recipe – click photo

The best part about Pasta e Fagioli is it is the ultimate Italian food for the soul. There is nothing more comforting that a hot bowl of Pasta e Fagioli with grated parmagiana, crushed red peppers, and a slice of crusty Italian bread. So it is not surprising that most Italian restaurants offer Pasta e Fagioli; and it is one of the best things to bring to a carry-in or potluck. And when you want to show your friends that you care about them during tough times or times of joy, nothing says you care more than sending a big pot of Pasta e Fagioli. You’re not only sharing a meal but you are sharing your heritage and a family tradition.

Another quite humorous part of this meal is the pronunciation itself. When I was growing up we ate something called “Pasta Fazool.” Everyone in our family called it Pasta Fazool; our friends called it Pasta Fazool; you could order Pasta Fazool in a restaurant on Franklin Avenue and get what you wanted without the server giving you a strange look. Basically there was no reason for me to question the proper pronunciation of Pasta e Fagioli. It wasn’t until the coordinator of the potluck lunch at work asked me for the recipe of my Pasta Fazool that I actually saw how it was spelled. And then the first time someone ordered it at the chain Italian restaurant, the well trained server of the fake Italian restaurant gave us a funny look and corrected our pronunciation — which by the way wasn’t correct either. I again denied our family mispronounced Pasta e Fagioli because we also didn’t pronounce other foods phonetically — like lasagna, manicotti, mozzarella, or ricotta. I later discovered that the pronunciation, Pasta Fazool, is unique to the American-Italian community in the Northeast. So I now proudly say Pasta FAZOOL!

Our Pasta e Fagioli is vegetarian (often vegan) and a healthy, high protein, low fat meal. Today, I share this story and meal with my family — the next generation. The most wonderful part of this meal are the memories of my grandmother and our time together. The cook that I have become is in large part to my grandmother. She was a creative and confident chef. She loved making meals special and loved sharing meals with others. As a tribute to her and all of the other great cooks in my family, I am committed to not only sharing these meals with my kids but also keeping the stories alive. My grandmother would be very pleased that I have kept many of her traditions alive and I am still sharing her stories and our memories.


Buon Appetito!


If you want my recipe for Pasta e Fagioli, click here.


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:

 


Read more stories about growing up in my family and our traditions, check out these PC Pop posts:


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  1. bravo, Roberto. Bravo!

  2. Spent Monday afternoon in the South End with a lot family. It was for lunch at Casa Mia following my uncle’s funeral. Check out my page to watch a video of my Mom singing an Italian favorite.

  3. I cannot help but reminisce about growing up in our Italian home! My grandmother (Nonna) would make Pasta e Fagioli once a week and it was truly amazing! Thanks for the memories :)!!

  4. What a great story!!

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