DIANA, 46, with her Grandma Bianca, 91, who has passed down many great recipes, including the world's easiest pasta fagioli. Diana grew up in Cliffside Park, NJ and currently resides in Boonton Township with her husband of almost 20 years, Evan, and their two teen-aged sons, Alex and Luke.
Among the cousins, I am probably the one with the reputation as being a train wreck in the kitchen. I’d like to think it is a reputation born more of choice than ability. Growing up, I never had much of an interest in standing on a two-step stool in front of the kitchen counter watching in awe as my mother prepared “supper” (we never called it dinner) that always consisted of a meat (usually red), a vegetable, a carbohydrate and the obligatory loaf of bread. Not just any bread—Italian bread from Pedoto’s Bakery in Fairview. My mother always says she never ate bread with her meals until she married my father. (A habit apparently difficult to break since they’ve been divorced 33 years, yet the loaf remains.)
So while my sister was absorbing the knowledge that eventually would dub her the Culinary Goddess of our family, I was more interested in get past 100 hops on my pogo stick to break the imaginary World Record inside my head. Needless to say, her skills are much more useful today.
My absence from the kitchen didn’t prove problematic until I went off to college where, instead of the traditional dorm room (cool, I’ll get a meal plan), I was placed in an apartment complete with a kitchen and three roommates who couldn’t tell the difference between a whisk and a spatula. So I started experimenting, and realized that I did in fact pick up a few tricks from my mother. When I discarded the high-salt flavor packet from the Ramen package and instead added an egg to the boiling noodles, drained the water and added butter, my roommates thought I was a genius. And so with the help of a few potpies and boxed macaroni and cheese, I did begin to cook…a little…and was ready to face the real world. Or so I thought.
The fact of the matter is I don’t love to cook. I went back to work full time after both my sons were born and what gave me more angst than anything else was the responsibility of feeding my family. This was a job I did not sign up for nor did I want. But I realized early on that neglecting this part of my “mom” duties would not only raise a few eyebrows (not to mention a visit from social services), it would be a physical detriment to my family. So I closed my eyes and took a leap into the kitchen. With the help of family recipes, memories of holiday meals, and stories about my parents, their parents and even my great-grandmothers in the kitchen, I learned to cook, giving hope to those of you out there whom, like me, chose to jump on your pogo stick rather than learn to make lasagna.
One would think all Italians have pasta fagioli (we pronounce it faz-ool) in their repertoire of recipes. But my Grandma Rose, whose family came from Sicily, never made the dish (perhaps because my father says he was never a fan of it.) But my maternal grandmother, Bianca, whose family came from the northern part of Italy, has been making it for as long as I can remember and, at age 91, she still rocks it in the kitchen. Thinking back, I do recall seeing my father eat my Grandma Bianca’s pasta fagioli…on the sly, of course. After all, there is nothing like that mixture of tiny pasta and beans to warm the soul and make you shout, “Mama mia!” What I love about my grandmother’s recipe is that it is so easy and quick to make. But for those of you who want a little extra in the bowl, I’ve included a variation at the end of the recipe. (Pictured above, Diana's son, Alex, enjoys a crock of his great-grandmother's pasta fagioli.)
7 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 small cans of tomato sauce
2 cans of cannellini (white kidney) beans
2 teaspoons oregano or whatever Italian seasoning you prefer
1 pound pasta
In a fry pan, sautee garlic in olive oil. Add tomato sauce and kidney beans (don’t drain the liquid; it makes the sauce even more yummy) Add oregano. Simmer.
In separate pot boil enough water for one pound of pasta. Salt the water…and don’t be shy about it! When water boils add pasta and cook according to directions. (We use Ditalini, but any small pasta that you like will do.) When pasta is cooked, drain and add to sauce.
Top with shaved parmigiana, grab a nice, big piece of crusty Italian bread and enjoy!
Variation: Some people like celery, carrots and onions in their pasta fagioli. If you’re one of them, simply sautee those ingredients in the oil before adding the garlic. Also, if you want it to be more soupy than hearty, add 1 can of chicken broth along with the tomato sauce.