Food, Lifestyle

Making beans lovable

Pictured is pasta fazool. Find the recipe below.


The jars of dried beans on their own shelf in my Noni’s pantry was a sight to behold. Noni would save the occasional jar that would come her way from store-bought foods — say mustard or mayonnaise, though it’s hard to imagine that she would have made those herself, too! The front of the shelves was decorated with a shiny colored paper that came on a roll, designed specifically for this purpose.  

She was never happier than when she was in the “Racket Store” in East Boston, nearly an all-day outing traveling via trolley and then bus from Revere. The store was filled with stacks of kitchenware she could just dream of owning. Noni saved the dishes that were given away at the movies, “the show.” They had a wheat pattern on white, and the movie lover that she was, she collected many soup bowls, plates, a large bowl for macaroni — the word that has been replaced by pasta in the current usage.  For 12 cents you got to see a newsreel, a short movie and then a regular feature — quite a bargain, especially when you account for the dish you were given to take home!

On Noni’s shelves, chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, were labeled “ceci,” the Italian word, and my Italian grandmother used them in many of her dishes.

This reminds me of a special day when I hosted from New York a nationally syndicated radio show called “Delicious Encounters.” I interviewed Mario Batali at his Greenwich Village Restaurant, Lupa. My son and I – he lived on Bleecker Street in the Village — had been there together, a few years previously, and I loved it.

Mario met my husband Todd and me at the restaurant during the day, before it opened for dinner. He had his little toddler son in tow and had walked from his apartment nearby. He asked if I would like to make a quick and easy dish, a favorite of his; of course I was thrilled.  We went into the kitchen, and he grabbed a sauté pan, a few cloves of garlic and in a few seconds it was sweating in olive oil with a few red pepper flakes into which he added some fresh chopped rosemary. He grabbed a handful of chickpeas, calling them ceci, Mario gave them a quick rinse and dried them with a kitchen cloth, then they went into the pan, with a vigorous shake, not a one escaping. Then he “hit the pan” with a little chicken broth and threw in a few swirls of cooked pasta; a moment later it was on a platter, over which he grated some Pecorino Romano.  

I often make this delicious dish and think of the warm, charming and oh-so talented Mario. I remember well those restaurant days when you could be so creative with all the food right there at your fingertips. It was like painting with food.

There were jars of white beans, labeled cannelloni, which was used in Pasta e fagioli, often called “pasta fazool” here, a favorite of mine. It is easy and fast to make, as long as you remember to soak the beans overnight (to eliminate the gas-generating enzyme) before cooking them the next day.   

My Mississippi grandmommy used black-eyed peas a lot in her cooking.  She cooked the beans in bacon and onion and then ladled a scoop of them over her golden corn sticks, which she had baked in a black iron pan with chopped veggies on top, like okra, tomatoes, red onion, bell peppers. It was the taste of the South personified. Black-eyed peas were not part of my Noni’s repertoire, but she had jars of “lenticchie,” or lentils. The gray were the only ones available then, but today I prefer the orange-colored ones, supposedly French.

There is no reason to make a small amount of lentils or beans of any kind. they can be refrigerated for several days and there are countless ways to enjoy them — in salads or in soup with pasta.

With the warmer weather seemingly on its way, a bean or lentil salad on a picnic goes with anything, especially sliced pork roast or grilled fish. Make some memories, enjoy some friends on a warm spring day over a bottle of wine and some simple “cucina pouvre,” the very rich and wonderful “cuisine of the poor,” that is so popular in pricey restaurants today.


(Pasta e fagioli; pasta with beans)

Every Italian household has its version. It is the quickest and easiest dish to make with canned white kidney beans, not as delicious as when you soak the dried ones, but very good.

  • In a deep (about 5 inches) heavy bottom sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. If you prefer a smoky flavor you can substitute three rashes of chopped bacon or pancetta.   
  • In the fat that is rendered, add 2 ribs of celery, including the leaves, 1 small onion, 2 cloves of garlic and 2 medium carrots, chopped.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring the pot.  
  • Add a sprig of thyme and rosemary and 2 cups of chicken or beef broth.  Cover the pan and simmer until the carrots are tender.  
  • Add 1 1/2 cup of tomato sauce and 1 15-ounce can of rinsed white kidney beans (cannellini) and 2 cups of chicken broth. Simmer for 5  minutes to combine the flavors. (I use grape tomatoes, which I chop in the food processor, sautéed with a few cloves of garlic, salt and a bay leaf, a sprig each of thyme and rosemary; cook for 20 minutes.) It is rather thick, but very tasty and perfect to add to soups or on its own over pasta with some chopped basil sprinkled on top.)  
  • Boil 3 quarts of water in your pasta pot, add a little salt and cook ¾  pound of pasta until al dente. I love the Barilla mezzi rigatoni. The beans and veggies slide into the pasta. Perfect.
  • Do not put oil in your pasta pot to prevent sticking. Having enough water and stirring the pot will prevent this. Putting oil in the water will only stop the sauce from sticking to the pasta when you are eating it!  
  • Add the drained pasta to the pot and stir; add a little more hot broth if you prefer a more soupy dish.  

Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano.  Buon appetito.


More Stories In Lifestyle