Sunday, November 2, 2014
Halloween evening, as we scraped the last drops of soup from our bowls, we lost power. Blinking in surprise, we hastily cleared the table. The day's final patches of sunlight danced across the slick blanket of maple leaves covering the driveway as the boys donned their costumes. We set out trick-or-treating by the light of a pale slice of moon, candlelit jack-o-lanterns, and the bobbing flashlights of little minions, Princesses Elsa, vampires, zombies and witches all around us. We stopped at the home of a colleague of Alexi’s first. Her husband answered the door, in the absence of electricity, with an antique kerosene lantern in hand; he said he and a roommate had used it for warmth when they were in law school at Cornell, living off campus. After making our way across the neighborhood to Henry and April’s there was a sudden downpour, despite the continued visibility of the moon. They lent us an umbrella. Cal announced he was ready to go home as I simultaneously overheard a nearby toddler say to his mother, “It’s almost tomorrow.”
Four little bags of peanut M&Ms and a plate full of crisp, festively shaped and decorated sugar cookies awaited us on our porch. Their source was a mystery; three neighbors instantly came to mind.
As the boys sorted and traded their loot, we watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as we do every year, as I did every year of my childhood. Alexi’s only memory of it from when he was a kid is of a hockey practice in which the team’s goalie stayed home to watch it. I don’t blame that goalie a bit.
Pasta e Fagioli
Adapted from Franny’s
This is a stick-to-your-ribs, incredibly flavorful soup that satisfies my always-hungry boys. It’s important to follow the directions and not combine the pasta and the soup until the last minute, as it will become too thick from the starch that will be released by the pasta.
For the beans:
2½ cups dried borlotti or cranberry beans (about 1 pound)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds
2½ ounces prosciutto trimmings or prosciutto
5 garlic cloves
1 sage sprig
1 rosemary sprig
For the soup:
1 cup finely chopped pancetta (5 ounces)
1 cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped carrot
½ cup finely chopped celery
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons tomato paste
½ cup canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
½ pound ditalini or other small dried pasta
1 pound kale, chopped (optional)
Finely grated Pamigiano-Reggiano
Extra-virgin olive oil
To make the beans:
Place the beans in a large bowl with plenty of cold water to cover. Let stand for 8 hours or overnight.
Drain the beans and place them in a large pot. Cover with 8 cups water. Stir in the olive oil and salt. Wrap the Parmigiano rinds, prosciutto, onion, garlic cloves, sage, and rosemary in a large square of cheesecloth and secure with kitchen twine or a tight knot. Drop into the pot of beans. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the beans are tender and creamy, about 1 hour. Add more water as needed to keep the beans fully covered. Remove from the heat. Discard the sachet.
To make the soup:
In a large skillet, cook the pancetta over medium-high heat until it is crisp and most of the fat has rendered, about 7 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, sage, and rosemary, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are very soft and the tomatoes’ juices have mostly evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Transfer the vegetables and half the beans and their liquid to a food processor, working in batches if necessary. Puree until smooth. Return the mixture to the pot of beans and cook over medium heat until warmed through; add water if needed to reach the desired consistency. Keep warm.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain. Optional: add chopped kale to the pasta water for the last minute of cooking time.
Spoon the pasta (and kale, if using) into individual serving bowls. Ladle the hot soup over the pasta. Finish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt to taste, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Yield: 6-8 servings