Author Archives: hollychase

What Would Pope Francis Cook?

Was it only two years ago that we first presented our recipe for Pasta e Ceci to celebrate Pope Francis’s ascension to the Papacy? The peripatetic Holy Father has covered a lot of ground since then and now he’s here, back in the New World.

Pasta e Ceci
Pasta e Ceci
Copyright © 2013, Skip Lombardi

To welcome him, we once again offer this modest, everyday Roman dish, a heavenly combination of ditalini and chick-peas. We can well imagine that after a week of airline food and banquets, the Holy Father may be yearning for a little home-cooking.

For Pasta e Ceci, Romans favor ditalini, which cook quickly within the broth of already-cooked pulses. Also called paternoster and avemarie, Our Father and Hail Mary, these short semolina tubes are reminiscent of rosary beads. Since devout cooks often said their evening prayers while preparing supper, some families maintained a tradition of gauging the cooking of their pasta according to the time it took to recite one or more prayers!

Ditalini and Rosary Beads
Ditalini with traditional kitchen timer
Copyright © 2013, Skip Lombardi

The dish is quickly assembled. Just be sure your chickpeas are thoroughly cooked before you begin.

Ingredients:

For the battuto:

Olive oil
1 large stalk of celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice (reserve any leaves for garnish)
1 medium onion (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 Tablespoons flat-leaf Italian parsley including stems, finely chopped
2 Cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf

For the soup:

1/2 teaspoon dry marjoram
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces dry chickpeas, soaked and cooked according to package directions, OR
2 15-ounce cans of cooked chickpeas, drained & rinsed
8 ounces ditalini
4 Tablespoons flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped.

To garnish:

Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
Additional chopped parsley & any celery leaves
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Make your battuto

Heat a 4 to 6-quart pot over medium-high heat, then add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot.

Lower the heat to medium-low and add all the ingredients for the batutto. Sauté, stirring occasionally for approximately 10 minutes, or until the ingredients soften and barely begin to caramelize.

Make the soup:

Add the marjoram and a few grinds of black pepper and stir. Cook for a minute or two, allowing the herbs and pepper to begin to permeate the batutto.

Add the drained canned chickpeas (OR the home-cooked chickpeas and their cooking liquid) to the battuto. Add additional water so that you have a total of 6 cups of liquid in the pot. Adjust the heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

Have your garnishes ready as the pasta will cook very quickly.

Add the ditalini to the broth and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 minutes before you test one of the ditalini.If the pasta has reached the al dente state, the soup is ready. If not, continue cooking and tasting for another 1-2 minutes.

To Serve:

Ladle the soup into shallow bowls. Drizzle a teaspoon of fruity olive oil over each portion and garnish with parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


Benvenuto, Francesco e buon appetito a tutti!

Serves 4-6.

Marilyn Monroe: Almost Italian?

Marilyn Monroe at Stove
Photo: Source Unknown

If you’ve been reading AlmostItalian.com for any length of time, you know our penchant for analyzing dishes—deconstructing their names, techniques, and ingredients while tracing their geographic origins. But we’re not the only cookery writers doing this…

Last week Matt Lee & Ted Lee, better known as the Lee Brothers to fans of fare from south of the Mason-Dixon Line, reminded us that Italian culinary influences in America are sometimes more subtle than we suspect.

We were delighted to read their New York Times article, an exhaustive but light-hearted examination and remake of a complex poultry stuffing recipe once jotted down by Marilyn Monroe. The Lee boys managed to trace the probable origins of the recipe back to the thrice-wed starlet’s second set of in-laws—the Sicilian family of first-generation American and baseball legend, Joe DiMaggio. Joe and Marilyn were married in 1954, a union that lasted less than a year but whose culinary effects seem to have persisted.

Among the ingredients that gave the Lees some clues were oregano (not too common an American ingredient in the 1950’s unless you had an Italian connection) along with the combination of pine nuts, chestnuts, and raisins—very Sicilian (as well as very eastern Mediterranean: Greek and Arab influence lives on in Sicilian kitchens).

The casual addition of a “1 handful” of “Parmisan” [sic] cheese reminds us how our grandmothers measured and that U.S. food manufacturers were catering to Italians with ready-to-use products. What better way to enrich a holiday stuffing than to toss in grated cheese? Most Siciliani would never have tasted Parmigiano; southern Italian grating cheeses (such as pecorino) were almost always made from sheep’s milk. But Progresso and Kraft gave cooks with roots in the impoverished southern provinces opportunities to express their pan-Italian soul with one of America’s most abundant agricultural commodities.

What reinforces the Sicilian link for us is the use of bread as the main ingredient in the stuffing. This wouldn’t seem unusual, except that sourdough bread (in this case, from San Francisco) is specified. Of all the Italians who landed on American shores, none revered bread more deeply than the Sicilians—many of whom left Sicily too destitute to have ever considered pasta a staple.

In 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement *, a book we’ll discuss in more depth within a future post, author Jane Ziegelman highlights this point in her profile of Sicilian New Yorkers who would have been contemporaries of the immigrant DiMaggios:

“When Sicilians described America as the land of bread and work, they imagined a country without hunger, which, in their experience, was just as miraculous as a city paved in gold.”

Finally the Lee Brothers clinch their argument in favor of Italian influence by pointing out that Marilyn’s recipe begins with the scrawl: “No Garlic”—an omission that stands as a poignant testimony to how immigrants might forgo a favorite flavor as they struggled to assimilate into mainstream America.

While we think Marylin Monroe’s stuffing recipe sounds pretty good, in our heart of hearts, we know that we (along with the DiMaggios) would have preferred to add some garlic and peperoncini sautéed in a little olive oil. But don’t take our word for it—read the recipe and decide for yourself.

We think you’ll agree that it’s almost—but not quite—Italian.

* 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman

* Publisher: Harper Collins; 1 edition (June 1, 2010)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 0061288500
* ISBN-13: 978-0061288500b