A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

What I Had for Lunch Today: Pasta e Fagioli

In my house, pasta e fagioli has always been what you do with leftover spaghetti. A couple of cloves of garlic, a stalk of celery sliced up, some basil, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf are cooked in olive oil in a heavy pan (I always use an old pressure cooker with the guts taken out) just till the garlic is golden. If the garlic gets brown, toss everything out and start over. Add some leftover marinara sauce, some leftover spaghetti, some water, and a 15-ounce can of beans. Simmer a few minutes and it's done.

If you don't have any leftover sauce, you can use canned crushed tomatoes for this. My mother used to use Contadina whole peeled tomatoes, just squeezing them with her hands to crush them, but Contadina has changed its recipe so I don't use that brand any more. Any decent brand of Italian plum tomatoes will do. If you like, you can use broth instead of water, or beans cooked from scratch instead of canned. My mother always used Stewart's shelled beans for this recipe, but "fagioli" just means beans...it can be any variety you like or happen to have around. I use Goya pink beans usually; they're very similar to the taste I remember.

My mother used to put a whole stalk of celery in the pot as it simmered, but I don't bother to cook this long; that's why I slice the celery and sauté it instead. The real secret to bringing out the flavor isn't simmering it necessarily, but simply making it a day ahead and reheating it.

If you don't have any leftover pasta, you can cook some right in the soup, or cook it separately and add it. If you cook it right in the soup, it drinks up all the liquid, though. Elbow macaroni or any other pasta may be used; spaghetti should be broken up, or else it's impossible to keep on your spoon.

In my mother's house, soup was never a primo, always a meal in itself. I ate this with nothing but a couple of slices of sperlonga, a fantastic chewy bread I found in Whole Foods the other day.

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