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.


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.

Tenerumi Redux

Given our interest in Italian-American ingredients, yesterday we pounced upon this lovely basket of squash tendrils at Chase’s Daily in Belfast, Maine. We couldn’t help noting that surrounding this quintessentially Italian home garden specialty were Japanese eggplants, Thai basil, and produce with New World origins— Maine fingerling potatoes, multicolored cherry and husk tomatoes along with herbs like epazote and papalo.

Tenerumi at Chase's Daily, Belfast, Maine
Tenerumi at Chase’s Daily in Belfast, Maine
Copyright © 2014 Skip Lombardi

Late summer is the time of culinary fusion as gardens overflow. It’s easy to forget that the gardens of Italian immigrants—with their Mexican tomatoes and peppers—were already hot-spots of gastronomic change and experimentation. A generation or two from now, who knows what Italian-American food may include?

An abundance of squash means that the fast-growing tips of their vines, known in Italian as tenerumi, can be repeatedly harvested and enjoyed as components of pasta dishes. Once cut, the delicate tenerumi haven’t a long life in the fridge so they are hard to find in commercial distribution.

However, if you or someone you know has a garden, take a cue from our Italian grandparents…

Turkey Tetrazzini


On the day after Thanksgiving, we thought we’d share with you an excerpt from our new book. Turkey Tetrazzini is what home cooks of the Mad Men generation did with their turkey leftovers.

Buon appetito e felice ringraziamento.

Luisa Tetrazzini
Luisa Tetrazzini

Recipes are never static; they spawn imitations and adaptations. And they travel—around a neighborhood or between continents. Sometimes the “original” recipe—which may never have been written down—is lost. A good post-Thanksgiving example is Turkey Tetrazzini.

Named to honor the Florentine opera diva, Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1941), the combination of boneless turkey, mushrooms, and pasta in a white sauce, was supposedly created by the French culinary doyen, Auguste Escoffier.

This dish and its permutations highlight yet another aspect of “Almost Italian”—namely, how the popular American notion of Italian food expanded to embrace dishes that did not include “red sauce.” Whether they had troubled themselves to make a simple béchamel, velouté, or had taken an all-too-easy short-cut with a can of cream of mushroom soup, sometime in the 1950’s, cooks across America began to confidently turn Thanksgiving leftovers into something that seemed sophisticated and “Continental.”

Donna Luisa sang before enthusiastic audiences in San Francisco, and murky sources claim the dish first appeared there between 1907 and 1910. The coloratura’s most flamboyant appearance was not on stage, but on the street, in front of the San Francisco Chronicle building. Barred from opera houses in New York because of a contract dispute, Luisa Tetrazzini swept into San Francisco, proclaiming (long before the flower-power fests of the 1960’s), that “the streets of San Francisco are free” and that she would “sing in the streets.” Indeed, she performed on Christmas Eve 1910, for a crowd estimated to have exceeded 200,000.

Turkey Tetrazzini’s only connections to Italian cuisine seem to be spaghetti and the dish’s name. While Escoffier had a propensity for naming his creations to honor opera stars (Tournedos Rossini, Peach Melba), there is no published evidence that he created Turkey Tetrazzini any more than there is corroboration that he ever visited San Francisco.

Domesticated poultry have never figured heavily in the cuisines of Italy. Nonetheless, a turkey might appear on a Christmas table. As European turkeys tend to be leaner than the mega-birds bred in America, holiday turkey leftovers would probably have ended up as ingredients in a soup stock or minced as stuffing for tortellini or ravioli.

Here in America, what to do with left-over turkey has given rise to thousands of recipes. In the tradition of operatic hyperbole, one could claim that there are hundreds of Turkey Tetrazzinis. And though more than a few of them appear in modern European Italian and Latin American cookbooks (Luisa Tetrazzini also toured South America, which had large Italian immigrant populations), the recipe seems to have first “happened” here in North America.

Turkey Tetrazzini


1 Lb. Spaghetti
12 oz. Button mushrooms, thinly sliced
7 Tbs unsalted butter
1/4 Cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Cups whole milk
1/4 Cup heavy cream
2 Cups chicken broth
1/4 Cup dry white wine
4 Cups coarsely chopped cooked turkey
1 10 oz. Package frozen baby peas, thawed
2/3 Cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/3 Cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. Nutmeg, freshly grated
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbs Flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped


Preheat oven to 375° F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and then add the spaghetti. Cook until the pasta has reached the al dente state. Drain in a collander and reserve.

Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 3 Tbs butter. When the butter has foamed and the bubbles have begun to subside, add the mushrooms, lower the heat to medium and sauté for approximately 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have given up their liquid and it has evaporated. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Heat a 2 – 3 quart saucepan over medium-high heat and add 3 Tbs butter. When the butter has melted, stir in the flour and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for approximately 3 minutes.

Gradually stir in the milk, cream, broth, and the wine. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.


In a large bowl, combine the pasta, the mushrooms, the turkey, the peas, and the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and grated nutmeg. Stir in 1/3 cup of the Parmesan and transfer the mixture to a buttered ovenproof casserole, at least 2″ in depth. (The shallower the casserole, the greater the amount of golden and crispy topping you’ll have to share.)

In a small bowl combine the remaining 1/3 cup of Parmesan, the bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the pasta, and dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, cut into bits.

Bake the casserole on the middle rack of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it is bubbling and the top has browned. Remove from the oven and allow the casserole sit for 10 minutes before serving.

To Serve:

Divide the Tetrazzini equally among six to eight dinner plates and garnish each with the chopped parsley.

Serves 6 to 8.