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“That’s Amore”: Pasta E Fagioli

If I sang "when the moon hits you're eye like a big pizza pie",


you would probably respond


"That's Amore"


Those words sung by Dean Martin serenade us long after his death in 1995.


Born Dino Crocetti on June 7, 1917, in Steubenville, Ohio, the son of Gaetano Alfonso "Guy" Crocetti, an Italian immigrant and barber, and his Ohio-born wife, Angela (Barra) Crocetti, Martin spoke only Italian until age five.


"When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine....

.... That's amore"


Martin started his entertainment career singing in Steubenville and other Ohio nightclubs.


"Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling

And you'll sing...

...Vita bella"



This eventually led to his name change to Dean Martin, and a successful six-decade career as a singer and actor in New York City, Hollywood and Vegas.


"Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay

Like a gay tarantella"


Every year in June since 1996 his hometown of Steubenville, a mere 30 miles from my Moon Township home, celebrates his life at the Dean Martin Hometown Celebration.


Steubenville Mayor Domenick Mucci assembled the Dean Martin Committee, led by Dean's daughter Deana and her husband John Griffeth, with the purpose of establishing an annual festival in honor of the entertainer.


Today, the Dean Martin Festival benefits the Dean Martin Scholarship Funds for local high school students pursuing music and the arts.



"When the stars make you droll just like pasta fazool",


What is it folks?


"That's Amore!"


Those words aren't just arbitrary to Dean Martin. He grew up eating and enjoying pasta e fagioli like many other immigrant families did not only in Steubenville, but in McKees Rocks (my hometown with a large Italian immigrant population, and halfway around the world in Italy. In fact, his daughter, Deana Martin says that it was her father's favorite meal. She made it with her grandmother countless times and enjoyed sharing it with her dad. The recipe was shared by Martin in her cookbook, "Memories Are Made of This".




Origins

There are several Italian regional variations (and even further household variations) of pasta e fagioli as there are as many ways as possible to pronounce this peasant dish.


Where I come from in McKees Rocks, we say "pasta fagiole".


And no one can say for sure where the dish or the pronunciations originated.


Some say Campania, others Lazio, and others are convinced it comes from Veneto, as the dialect name of it, pasta e fasoi, would imply.


The way you prepare it may be controversial to some considering that's not how they had it growing up.


Some make it quickly with no fuss while others painstakingly adding one ladle of liquid at a time.


Each region of Italy has its own interpretation or variation and uses ingredients more readily available in that area.


Variations

Piedmont:

  • usually, vegetarian

  • but some families use Lardo (pig fat) to sauté the sofrito (aromatic vegetables- carrots, celery, onion)

  • fresh pasta

Veneto

  • Pasta e fagioli with ham hock

  • Every year on the 17th of January, the slaughter of the pigs takes place. Historically the good cuts of meat were reserved for wealthy, and the less desirable ones were for the poor.

  • In Verona, pasta e fagioli is one of the signature dishes eaten to make the sacrifice on this holiday known as Saint Antonio Abate.

  • Households use cheaper cuts of salted or smoked meat or just the addition of pork bone for a more serious depth of flavor.


Tuscany

  • Cannellini beans

  • Kale

  • Garlic

  • Chilis (red pepper flakes)

  • Some portion of the soup would be blended to make the broth thicker.

Naples

  • Fresh tomatoes

  • Oregano

  • Chilis

  • Garlic

  • Pancetta


Bari - Puglia

  • Thicker tomato sauce

  • Chilis


No matter which interpretation of pasta e fagioli you make, from family recipes or an amalgamation of several recipes, one thing is for sure...


That's Amore!


Cooking Class with Carol

Things to Consider


Beans

Different types of white beans can be used for the dish:

Cannellini

Navy

Garbanzo (Ceci, chickpeas)

Borlotti


Ideally, dried beans would be used for the long version of the recipe; canned beans would be used for the "quicky" pasta e fagioli.


Pasta

Dried pastas usually small cut varieties like elbow or ditalini are used for the soup.

It's always recommended to use pastas imported from Italy. Bronze-cut pasta, also called bronze-die pasta, is extruded through dies—perforated metal plates that cut and shape the pasta—that are made of bronze. These bronze dies produce a finished noodle with a rough, porous texture. Bronze-cut pasta absorbs sauce effectively, improving the mouthfeel and flavor of pasta dishes.


My version is reminiscent of pasta e fagioli from Bari in the Puglia region of Italy (the heel).

A thick tomato sauce consisting of fresh basil, whole and crushed tomatoes, garlic and onions is used to present the beans and pasta. I use cannellini beans and ditalini pasta. White onion is sautéed with whole cloves of garlic. I also use a combination of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano and red pepper chili flakes. I finish the dish with uncooked extra Virgin olive oil.


Like many dishes, pasta e fagioli is always better the next day.


If there is a lack of sauce because the pasta soaked it up, I add a passata, an uncooked tomato purée that has been strained of seeds and skin. It brings a bright, bold, fresh flavor and makes the depth even more vast.


The Recipe

Ingredients

1 28oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

2 28oz cans crushed/puree tomatoes

3-4 cloves garlic, crushed but left whole

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cans cannellini beans, drained

1 cup fresh basil

1-pound ditalini pasta

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-2 tsp red chili flakes (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

2 tsp. oregano


What to do

1. In a large heavy bottom pot or large Dutch oven on medium high heat, add extra virgin olive oil, garlic and onions, cooking 1-2 minutes until onions are translucent.

2. Add whole tomatoes, cooking until tender, 2-3 minutes.

3. Tear basil leaves and add to pot. Add oregano and red chili flakes.



4. Add tomato puree, stirring to incorporate.

5. Fill two cans with water and add to mixture.

6. Bring to gentle rolling boil and allow to simmer, uncovered for 10-15 minutes or until mixture has reduced slightly, and sauce appears thicker. Add 1/2 cup cheese.

7. Taste for flavor. Too bitter? add 1 tsp of sugar until taste is to your liking. (This isn't necessary--every batch is different, so check the tomatoes every time you make it.)




8. Add beans and continue to cook on low, uncovered until sauce thickens 10-15 minutes.

9. Turn off heat.

10. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook pasta according to directions on box minus 2 minutes. You want the pasta to be absolutely al dente.

11. Drain pasta and add to sauce


12. Allow to stand 10-15 minutes. Sauce will thicken as pasta absorbs liquid.




At this point you can portion into bowls, sprinkle cheese on each bowl and drizzle with "anointing extra virgin olive oil". Garnish with a small basil leaves and additional red chili flakes.


For best results, allow to come to room temperature on the stove and refrigerate overnight.

My favorite way to reheat in a large skillet with butter. Once butter is frothing, add pasta e fagiole and cook until warmed through 4-5 minutes.


ENJOY!!



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