P.C.Pop with Pablo

Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

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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Pablo’s Pasta e Fagioli Recipe

In Family, fatherhood, Food, Italian, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Summer for Renewal, Tradition, Uncategorized on August 25, 2012 at 12:05 pm

This is one from my grandmother’s kitchen. It is a recipe from the old country — true Italian comfort food. Pasta e Fagioli can be found on the menu of many of the best Italian restaurants around — but the dish was a peasant dish served by frugal families. My grandmother’s version used salt pork or a ham bone for flavoring. My version is vegetarian (often vegan), high protein, and low fat. Pasta e Fagioli is a special treat for my family — and I hope it becomes that for you. For the whole story of my family’s Pasta e Fagioli tradition, READ the PC Pop Blog post: My Pasta Fazool Story (aka Pasta e Fagioli).


Pablo’s Pasta e Fagioli Recipe

Serves: 10-12


Ingredients:

  • 2 cups – onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups – celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves – garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 cups (2 cans) – kidney bean (light and dark red)
  • 2 cans (28 oz.) – crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) – diced or stewed tomatoes
  • 2 tbs. – olive oil
  • 2-4 tbs. – dried or freshly chopped parsley
  • onion powder/garlic powder, to taste
  • 28 oz. – water or broth
  • 1 cup – pasta (ditalini)
  • grated cheese
  • crushed red pepper
  • crusty Italian bread

 

 


In a large sauce pan, heat olive oil and onions. Saute onions stirring often until they begin to look translucent – about 2-3 minutes; then add garlic and celery. Continue to stir occasionally over medium heat for about 5 minutes (be careful not to burn onions or garlic). Optional – add other chopped vegetables.

Add kidney beans, parsley, onion powder and garlic powder – and combine ingredients by tossing well. Add crushed tomatoes and stewed tomatoes. Fill each empty tomato-can half-full with water or broth (approximately 28 oz. total) to get remaining tomatoes — add to the pan. Bring soup to a boil carefully; then reduce heat and simmer for 20-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

For al dente pasta, 30 minutes before you are ready to serve, carefully bring the soup to boil. Then add the pasta, bring to boil again, cover and turn off heat. Let stand, covered for 20-30 minutes. Stir and serve with grated cheese, crushed red pepper, and crusty Italian bread. Fresh green salad with oil/vinegar or Italian dressing is a perfect accompaniment.


Buon Appetito!



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:


Mia Famiglia

In Family, Food, Italian, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, parenting, Summer for Renewal, Tradition, Uncategorized on July 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

What I did on My Summer Vacation: Rediscovered My Family through Food, Kids and Tattoos


The family was an art…and the dinner table was the place it found expression. 

Don DeLillo, Underworld


Coco

Coco

This summer we drove 850 miles to be with our family in the homestead. My childhood home was the center of our family gatherings and holidays for many years. Now it is just my mom and her dog, Coco. Although I have kids of my own now and everyone is 30 years older; we were able to recapture the magic of our weekly Sunday family get-togethers again.

From the turn of the century through 1935, many Italians migrated to the United States of America — including my family. On my father’s side, my grandfather and grandmother’s parents were born in Italy. On my mother’s side, all of my great-grandparents were born in Italy. Although my father only had one brother,  my mother’s family was quite large. I grew up attending weekly Sunday family gatherings and became very close with my aunts (not pronounced “ant”), uncles and cousins. We met every Sunday at my maternal grandparents with the rest of the clan numbering 15-20 relatives. When my grandfather passed away, my mother, the eldest of her siblings, was asked by my grandmother to host the weekly get-together. It made sense because we had a home with a large backyard, in-ground pool, and enough room to seat everyone (albeit tight) for dinner. So, in the early-1970’s, my family began hosting. Like many family traditions, we were going strong until the kids started growing up and eventually having their own kids, families, in-laws, other cousins, etc.

On a recent visit to the family homestead (we now live 850 miles away), we were able to re-create the magic of those American-Italian family gatherings — and it sort of happened spontaneously. We let everyone know we were coming in advance, and many family members generously shared their days-0ff and vacation days with us. Family was coming together like old times. It was a welcome and wonderful treat. We caught up on everything going on with everyone, but honestly we spent most of our time reminiscing about old times. One surprise was how many of my family had tattoos. My sister, her son/my nephew and two of my first cousins had tattoos. Perhaps I noticed them this visit is because it was summer, and we were swimming and at the beach. It struck me that all of the tattoos had something to do with family. My sister has a tattoo of my nephew as an infant and another memorializing my father. My female first cousin had, in script, on her foot, perfectly aligned with the curve of her left flip-flop, simply, “la famaglia.” I thought nothing of it at the time — I was just surprise that they all had tattoos.

Part of the fun was also telling our family stories to the newest generation, aged 4 to 14. It was wonderful how curious the kids were, and amazing how vivid and similar all of our stories were. We also were fortunate enough to hear stories from a few of our great aunts two of whom are 90 and 92 year old sisters. What a hoot. Our shared experiences brought us closer and closer as a family in just a few short hours. As a family we have been lucky. Yes, we have had our losses, our tragedies, but all in all, we had a closeness that others have envied. over the years, we have also created  many traditions that focus on family and also honor our heritage. The constant with any gathering, holiday or family tradition was the FOOD. Preparing a meal together and eating as one big family as always been central to all of our get-togethers. And if your birthday fell the week of the Sunday family gathering, there was a home-baked cake in your honor. Birthdays were about family. Today we plan our kids’ birthdays  at the movie theater, nail salon, country-club pool — with lots of their friends. My birthdays through the years were with family — and I loved it. On this visit we even had an old fashioned birthday celebration for my son (see photo above).


So here’s the story we told our kids recently. The meal for Sundays was always the same. Homemade marinara sauce (not gravy), homemade meatballs, Italian sausage, and pasta (which we called macaroni). Typically the pasta was rigatoni but occasionally we would get crazy and have penne or ziti — but never spaghetti. My mother (my grandfather pre-early-1970’s) would get up at 5 a.m. to begin making the sauce and meatballs because the sauce needed to simmer for 4-6 hours. A big tossed salad was also a part of the meal prepared with olive oil and red wine vinegar and various Italian herbs. Whoever was closest to the Italian bakery was responsible for bringing the Italian bread. It is a meal to die for. An old fashion Italian feast.

The family would begin arriving at 11 a.m. and munch on whatever antipasto that was prepared or carried-in. Swimming began right away and the ball game of the day was put on the TV downstairs (usually either New York Giants or Yankees, depending on the season). Vegetables for the salad were prepared by 1 p.m.; at 1 p.m. meatballs were put in the sauce to simmer for an hour; at 1:15 p.m. the water was put on the stove to boil; and once this enourmous pot of water was at a raging boil, 4-5 pounds of pasta were dumped in to cook. Then the kitchen was cleaned, the Italian bread was cut and buttered, the salad was dressed and tossed, and the sinked was scoured in preparation for draining the (al dente) pasta. Around 2 p.m., my mother would be making plates for everyone and we would eat. She knew exactly what everyone wanted whether it was both meatball and sausage, no meat, extra sauce, light on sauce, etc. For a few minutes it was chaotic until everyone was seated and eating.  Once everyone finished grabbing bread, adding parmesan cheese and/or hot crushed red pepper, it was silent, for a moment, for the first time all day. Once everyone finished their pasta, the salad was served typically in your pasta plate. One or two ate their salad with their pasta but most ate their salad after their meal. (Italians believe it helps settle your stomach after a big meal.)

After Sunday dinner, there was more swimming and potentially a softball game in the front yard. When the sun started to go down, we would go indoors and play Setback (cards) or backgammon. My maternal grandmother was very serious about her card game. Usually by this time everyone would begin getting hungry again, and we would started making sandwiches.  If there was a birthday or anniversary to celebrate this was also the time to bring out the cake and coffee.  Speaking of coffee, there was hot coffee available all day and all night long.


During our recent Summer visit, once the meal was served, all of our wonderful memories of our family through the years came flooding back. The special Italian feast is the one thing that we share as a family.  My maternal grandfather would tell you that at the turn of the century, Italian immigrants had to be frugal.  The food we ate was the food of the peasant in Italy. It was absurd to even think of going out to eat for Italian food. First, we made the food better, more authentic with fresh ingredients; second, our grandparents and parents refused to pay for a meal that they could make for pennies.  We also never used “jarred” sauce. To this day, I feel funny about going out for Italian food or buying sauce in a jar. Not only do I have family memories about food but also specific foods for specific holidays, events, and seasons. Some of these food memories are as follows: chili dogs and homemade ice cream on July 4th; stuffed breads, baked ziti, and lasagna for special occasions like showers, bachelor parties, Christenings; fried dough with powdered sugar for holiday breakfasts; for events that need really special desserts – cannoli, rum cream cake,  pasticiotti, New York cheesecake; for family events like birthday parties – homemade pizza; for special Sunday gatherings – gnocchi or cavatelli; linguine with clam sauce on Christmas Eve; lentil soup on New Year’s Eve; and pasta e fagioli, for some reason, I remember it as the perfect food for the reception after funerals.


If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.

Bernard Shaw, preface, Immaturity


We are all getting older and wiser, and during this visit we all realized that nothing is more important than family. No matter what drama we have dealt with in the past and regardless of what issues we are dealing with today, family members love you and accept you and make it right. As a family we are not perfect, but this recent visit was filled with so many wonderful memories. More importantly we have shared our stories, history and traditions with a new generation. We laughed loudly, we hugged, we danced, we swam, we took lots of pictures, we chill-axed, we ate. Our Family connections are stronger than ever. We were able to be ourselves, we were comfortable and content, and it was easy and natural. This is the beginning of a new era. And we are committed to keeping this family together and continuing to create new memories while honoring our Italian and American heritage and our established traditions.

And I can’t help but thing of those TATTOOS — especially “la famiglia.” How profound, yet simple – and perhaps this one word, in Italian, was inscribed permanently on my cousin’s foot not by accident but rather with focused intention. I am convinced in our own silent ways, we all wanted this; and we made it happen. Thank God.


Benedici la Mia Famiglia!


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: