Growing up, I took for granted the seductive perfume of Italian food, a constant in my mom’s kitchen. The sizzle of garlic and onions in a cast iron pan is music to my ears and delightful to breathe in as I cook now, but back then I didn’t give it a second thought. It took me a while to realize that not all my friends ate the same way we did at home. Didn’t everyone eat broccoli and fava beans and pasta with fresh tomato sauce, sprinkled with freshly grated Romano cheese? While my friends were being served broccoli with cheddar cheese sauce, I was eating cauliflower fried in olive oil with crushed garlic and sprinkled with vinegar. My friends had never heard of calamari. Some didn’t know what a fresh fig was! And don’t even get me started on the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve with octopus salad as one of the highlights.
In all my childhood and teen years, my mother never once made the meals my non-Italian friends routinely ate—macaroni and cheese or tuna noodle casserole. She rarely made hamburgers, hot dogs, or grilled cheese sandwiches. I was a teenager before I ever had macaroni and cheese at a friend’s house, and she laughed at me when I said I had never eaten mac and cheese before. But turnabout is fair play—she had never had pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) before she had it at my house.
My mom had (and still does have) a repertoire of countless pasta e fagioli dishes. It is peasant food that has finally come into vogue. I enjoyed it growing up; and, to this day, I have never met a bean I didn’t want to incorporate into a pasta dish.
This pasta dish is a simple recipe I created years ago. It goes together pretty quickly, so it’s an easy meal to fix after work. If I can get a dish on the table in 30 minutes or less, I call that a work-friendly meal.
By the way, if beans make you gassy, all that means is that you haven’t incorporated enough of them in your diet. This dish will help—better get going on it!
p.s. Did I mention how delicious it is?
Radiatore with Cannellini & Broccoli
- 1 lb. radiatore (lots of ruffles to catch the sauce!) or rotini or penne or whatever
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 5 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 16-oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking water (see below)
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 large bunch of broccoli, cut into florets and steamed tender crisp
After you have steamed the broccoli; set it aside. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until it is tender but still has some bite (al dente). Remove about a cup and a half of the pasta cooking liquid and set it aside. Drain the pasta into a colander and set it aside as well. (I prefer to time it so that once the pasta is cooked I can dump it right in with the beans in the large frying pan.)
In a very large frying pan (at least 12″ diameter), heat the oil and cook the garlic for 30 to 60 seconds until it is just starting to turn light brown. Add the beans, cayenne, salt and black pepper. Cook for 1 minute, stirring; then add the pasta. Add the cheese and the reserved pasta cooking water alternately, stirring to melt the cheese after each addition. Add enough water to get the sauce to your preferred consistency. Stir in cooked broccoli. Sprinkle with parsley and serve at once.
I always serve this Italian style—straight from the pan; but, if you want to get fancy schmancy, get out a large pasta bowl and make it more presentable. There will be one more bowl to wash, but it’s just as tasty either way.