Thursday, October 22, 2009

The promised recipe for Pasta e' Fagioli and some other stuff

There is a squirrel with a kinked tail sitting in the pot of the baobab. He's been sitting there grooming that tail, looking around, occasionally licking for salt at the sides of the pot for a good fifteen minutes. When Linda came over and stood by the patio doors he froze up until she moved away. His threat recognition system ignores a giant monster sitting fifteen feet away; but it reacts to one standing ten feet away. The amount of time and careful attention devoted to studying such things by the wildlife biologists and such must be truly stupendous.

This particular squirrel has time to waste playing with his tail because the big white oak by the back door has produced a fall of acorns practically beyond all imaginings. Like all the other squirrels, he's probably glutted with acorns and already possessed of enough caches of them to last the winter. Plus he knows he can be blase' about acorns because the black walnut trees have also produced a bumper crop. The walnuts are still in their thick and nasty iodine smelling outer coats on the ground right now; but those coats will rot away and leave just the nuts in their shells, which will lie there contentedly until the squirrels get around to them; because nothing else can eat them. Those nuts are everything but squirrelproof.

But enough of that fat and lazy rodent; who better save his teeth for the walnuts and keep them off the trunk of my baobab tree. I sat down here to complete the recipe for Pasta e' Fagioli that I started a few days ago and then abandoned. I set the beans to simmering on Columbus Day before Jas came to get me for our tour of the new Wegmans and Best Buy, and then I forgot to finish the preparation - at least I forgot to finish the description of the preparation - of the meal. And I just remembered that I promised Linda L a description of the full recipe when we had dinner with her and Mark at the creole restaurant down in Royersford.

Linda L wanted that recipe even though I mentioned that my Pasta Fagiole, which used to be Mom's, and before that her Mom's and Pop's Mom's Pasta Fagiole, has nothing much in common with the recipes the restaurants use and the one that appears on the box of ditalini. Those other recipes are for a watery bean and vegetable country soup which contains some macaroni. My recipe is for a fairly thick bean and macaroni stew flavored with garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Linda L told me that she had tasted my version one time; but for the life of me I can't remember when I ever served such a thing to a crowd.

We ate the finished Pasta Fagiole for dinner on Columbus Day and then again on Wednesday, I think it was Wednesday, of last week. And, of course, I ate some of it for lunch a couple of days last week also, and one time for breakfast even. If you remember, I cooked two pounds of great northern beans pretty much according to the directions on the package, except about four times longer. I did not make Pasta Fagiole out of all of those beans because that would have been enough to feed me and Linda and much of Royersford. Out of the pot that resulted from cooking all those beans I used nine cups for the recipe I made last week. And I also froze three containers, of five cups each.

So, let's get that recipe out of the way before I get off on another digression as I am sometimes wont to do. Cook two pounds of Great Northern Beans on low for several hours, stirring occasionally, until most of them have been reduced to mush. Mom used to like a greater percentage of the beans whole; but then Mom sold out to the point of using canned beans eventually. Pop liked Mom's canned bean ersatz concoction; but he preferred the more mushy bean consistency you can only achieve by simmering those beans to death and beyond. This I know because Pop used to describe how good the bean scrapings from the bottom of the pot tasted when his mother gave them to him. She, Grandmom Filomena, used to cook her beans on the big woodstove that sat in Aunt Carmella's kitchen, and may still sit in that kitchen now, ten years and more after Aunt Carmella passed away.

That stove was huge, and the iron top of it was at least a half inch thick, which I know from playing with the round cover things that were about the size of CDs only much thicker while Mom and Aunt Carmella and Aunt Tavia and sometimes Aunt Mary were having coffee and cookees at the table. You could lift those round things and then let them accidentally clang down very satisfyingly onto the stovetop with that iron tool that slotted into them until you were given another cookie and chased from that kitchen.

You only get the sort of bean curd effect on the bottom of the pot that Pop described if you cook beans until they disintegrate. Which I would remind Mom about whenever I saw her opening bean cans in her later years and I wanted to generate a sharp reaction to liven things up. Despite her immediate reaction, which usually entailed the waving of her big spoon, Mom loved that line of discussion because it inevitably led straight back to feeding families cheaply in the days when she made great pots of beans and macaroni from scratch down on Penn Street. Sometimes it even led all the way back to the story about trapping blackbirds in the back yard of 403 Walnut Street; or the story of Grandmom Angela catching the boarder not shaking the milk and using the cream on top for his morning coffee; or the story of the men sneaking into the rail yard at night to dislodge coal from the cars, so the women could go in the morning to gather it; or the story of Grandmom Angela feeding ten, or was it fifteen, or twenty, with one pound of beef and a whole lot of potatoes and greens - in the era after the blackbirds had learned to avoid her back yard.

But I see that I've done it again, digressed from providing the recipe. Cook two pounds of beans according to the package directions but much longer. About 2/3rds of the way through cooking the beans add two bulbs of garlic, the cloves peeled and more or less finely chopped, of course. Fry the garlic just a bit in about a cup or so of olive oil, to drive the hotness out of it, before adding it and the oil to the bean pot. Also add two or three level teaspoons of salt and half or maybe a whole level teaspoon of pepper. And add a 14 ounce can of tomato sauce for color. If you don't have tomato sauce you can use ketchup or diced tomatoes, but if Mom heard you say you did that the spoon would really have waved. The addition of the oil and garlic will help in keeping the beans from sticking. This is the modern age of dials to control the heat and flat ended stirring spoons with which to scrape the bottom of the pot, not the age of cooking over a wood fired stove and wooden spoons shaped pretty much like blunt sticks. We do not end with bean mush stuck to the bottom of the pot, if we're careful.

From the resulting pot of beans, oil, garlic and tomato sauce for color, remove 9/24ths of the total and mix that with about 2/3rds of a pound of Ditalini cooked to the bare minimum time suggested on the package and then almost completely drained. If the beans are especially thick drain a little less water from the ditalini. If the beans seem a bit thin drain all of the water from the ditalini. That's the recipe I made the other evening. Each of the three containers I have in the freezer contains 5/24ths of that pot. I will probably mix each with about a third of a pound of ditalini, maybe a little more.

Pop used to eat Pasta Fagiole for breakfast whenever there was some of it in the refrigerator. In later years he would sometimes be sitting there in the kitchen window when I went over there for coffee, eating beans and macaroni with that giant flat bowled tablespoon he liked for that specific purpose. We have that spoon, the one with the slightly kinked metal fatigued spot on its handle. We still occasionally use it as a serving spoon for salad, although I prefer a different spoon for that purpose.

Pasta Fagiole is perhaps the ultimate comfort food from the days when people ate cheap and hearty stuff like beans and macaroni for the comfort of a full belly; before some wiseacre thought up the term "comfort food" and thus consigned such foods to mild association with eating to assuage our neuroses.

Update: In other news, scientists have discovered a new species of web spinning spider whose females grow to be bigger than a CD. So far they haven't actually seen a live one, just dead specimens in museums and parts of recently alive ones that have fallen to the ground in the rainforests of Africa. They think the reason they haven't seen a live one in its web is that the females live in the tops of the tall trees where they don't fear most birds and lizards and other such predators on ordinary two or three or four inch in diameter spiders because they look upon them as comfort food.

The scientist who study spiders are apparently short of help. They desperately need a few assistants to climb up those trees, ignoring the trifling snakes and foot long centipedes and other biting stuff, to find those giant spiders and study them, perhaps even capture one to bring down to the ground alive. They assure me that these particular spiders do not jump on things they want to eat but rather wait patiently, camouflaged in their sturdy webs, confident that plenty of food will come to them.

Who says there are no jobs available in this economy?

Update 2: The other night, after I told the story of Lefty and the drapes which Mom always used to tell, Linda told me she had never heard Mom tell her Lefty story, which was a cautionary tale about the taking in of stray troubled souls. Jas and Kathy also seemed to have never heard that story even though Jas remembered that Lefty used to sleep on the pile of burlap bags in the back of Harry's Potato Market until he pulled the knife on Patty. Lefty had a lot, a very lot, of very hard miles on him when we knew him. Mom's story predated that. One of these days I have to tell it here, but not in connection with a food recipe.

Harry took in strays all the time. He took in the quiet and nice black guy from down at the wharf who later stole some money Harry had in the trailor for a trip South to buy watermelons, which caused Harry to buy the pistol about which Patty used to act out a very funny story. And, of course, Harry later took in Eddie Fight, who never stole anything, but who also never did even a lick of work that I ever saw. Eddie had a lot of hard miles on him also, and he could be provoked to crack us up with one of his sayings. "Smarty, eh, smarty had a party." and "Nice man, Harry, very nice man. He'll give you a leaf for a lettuce patch any day."

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