Monday, September 12, 2011

Recipe for love

Today was a wonderfully low-key day. After all the festivities preparing for and celebrating daughter Melissa's wedding shower this past week, I was ready for low-key, for sure.

After three nights in a row staying up later than is ideal, we slept in Sunday morning. It was a really nice luxury to not have to be anywhere or do anything. Everyone needs time here and there to be off a schedule to decompress, but that isn't always feasible. Today I made it happen for me. Yes, sure, there was lots to do, there always is, but I was okay to let it all go and give myself time to rejuvenate, knowing that cranky would surely appear in full force if I didn't listen and attend to the needs of my body and soul.

Homemade biscotti and Italian cookies.
After a breakfast of leftover Italian shower cookies, thanks to my wonderful relatives, my mom called to ask if she could bring anything for our Sunday family dinner. How about ravioli? Mmm, sounds good, but I told her I would make pasta e fagioli. I could hear her delight through the phone. Why? Because cooking a big pot of pasta e fagioli is a sign of a new season for our Italian-American family, readiness for crisp fall days. I made mom's day with that announcement. I told her all she needed to bring was some crusty Italian bread.

Mortadella, provolone, Italian rolls,
and olive oil chips and
olive tapenade from Trader Joe's. Mmm.
She made the delight mutual and asked if we wanted some mortadella with that bread. Sure! Mortadella is just heaven on warm crusty Italian bread. Do I hear you say, What is mortadella? The literal translation is "the death of her."  Mortadella is an Italian (Bolognese) cold cut or "salume" made of finely hashed or ground pork sausage.

The "death," I like to think, refers to the small cubes of pork fat throughout the pink meat. Delicately flavored with spices, such as ground black pepper, peppercorns, myrtle berries, nutmeg, and coriander, the meat also has pistachios or olives throughout. Mortadella is best sliced thin and is certainly not health food with all the chunks of fat, but that's what makes it so delicious on warm bread, just oozing goodness as the fat melts on the bread and in your mouth.

So while I waited for mom and pop to show up with our mortadella, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood, something I hadn't had much time to do in recent weeks, and something I was sorely missing. My daughter Amanda and her hubby Jack, just back from a tour of duty on Guam, are staying with us temporarily until they move to New York in January when Jack starts his next assignment in Ballston Spa. With Amanda and Jack come their two long-haired Chihuahuas, Alfie and Lucy. So our two of the same breed, Baci and Bella, have some company for now, too.

So we took all four pups on our walk around the neighborhood. After their round, the kids and pups went in, and I decided to continue for a few more spins myself. On my third spin, I saw that my mom and dad's car was in the front of our house, so I jogged lightly up the block to meet them. When I reached them, mom said she just told dad that she thought that young girl walking was their daughter. Oh, loving you, mom! So nice as an almost fifty-year-old to hear your mom call you a young girl!

After greeting mom and pop, they went in the house and I finished my walk, quickly, I should say, so I could get to the kitchen table to dive into the mortadella and bread. Ah! Sweet reward!

After lunch, while mom and pop visited with Amanda who hasn't been home in over a year, I took the opportunity to grab a few winks and take a nap on the sofa. Just what the doctor ordered!

Soon after, it was time to start our dinner, so I oven-roasted some carrots and broccoli with some good olive oil at a high temperature. That's all you need for some caramelized goodness, intensifying flavor and bringing out the inherent sweetness of any vegetable. A simple recipe, the results are a quick and easy way to get your veggies in you through the week in salads for lunch or to accompany just about any dinner.

Then I started the main course, a traditional Italian meal of pasta e fagioli, which translates to pasta and beans. Here's my basic recipe I build upon now for years:

Pasta e Fagioli

olive oil
1 pound Italian pork or chicken sausage, cut in coins OR cubed cooked ham or pancetta
chopped onion to taste
minced garlic to taste
6 cups water
3½ cups gravy (or tomato sauce, if you're not an East Coast-Italian American)
3 cups (two 15-ounce cans) great northern beans, undrained
3 cups (two 15-ounce cans) red kidney beans, undrained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
ground black pepper
½ package (8 oz.) ditalini, uncooked (or any other small pasta you may like)
freshly shaved or grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, heat oil and saut√© meat, onion, and garlic until onion is tender, but not brown. Stir in water, gravy, beans, parsley, and pepper; heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 10 minutes to blend flavors. Return soup to a boil. Add pasta and boil, stirring occasionally, so you don't burn the bottom, 10 minutes or until your pasta is tender. Serve with Parmesan cheese on top.  

One-pot meals satisfy when
the air gets crisp and cool.
Now this recipe should make 6-8 servings of love, but I usually double this, since leftovers are even better.

And I'm always sure to tweak the recipe, depending on my mood. I say you can also add pinto beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, any beans you like.

Today I used Trader Joe's Spinach, Fontina & Roasted Garlic Chicken Sausage in the mix, and it added some great flavor. And I added a bag of chopped frozen spinach, to give us some more veggie power.


Pasta e fagioli with shaved Parmesan.
Can you tell I like a lot of cheese?
We certainly didn't forget the crusty Italian bread to sop up the gravy. This one-pot meal is peasant food at its best and was enjoyed by all. How do I know? Family going back for a second dish is always a sure sign. 

At the end of the day I packed up some pasta e fagioli to send mom and pop on their way, so they could also enjoy the leftovers as we will this week. Did I just send them home with some leftovers? No, I sent them home with some love.


A new season. Good food. Warm family. A recipe for love. Enjoy.

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