For a piece of real New York, sit and watch the weekday lunch crowd at Cafe al Mercato, an Italian dinette and pizzeria inside the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Cops and firefighters come for Italian sandwiches like sausage and peppers. The ROMEO Club (Retired Older Men Eating Out) is there weekly enjoying enormous plates of pasta and chicken parm. Tripe stew and bitter broccoli rabe, acquired tastes for most, are frequent orders at Ralph’s counter, especially among the staff at nearby Saint Barnabas Hospital, who make this their daily lunch spot.
Pasta Fazool or Pasta Fajol
What I love best about Ralph’s kitchen are his old-school Italian dishes that don’t come from restaurant menus, but from your Italian nonna’s kitchen, if you were lucky enough to have had one in this lifetime. My favorite of all is the pasta and beans. Ralph and I both have our roots in Campania so we call it pasta fasule, the Neapolitan word for beans, which is what people mean when they say “fazool.” In Italian, it’s pasta con fagioli or fajol, another affectionate name for this classic.
Pasta Fasule Recipe
Perfect for a meatless Monday, this dish is hearty, healthy and very inexpensive to make. Ralph’s recipe, like his famous pizza, is simple. Cooked white beans, the water from the can to thicken the soup, tiny tubes of pasta, and a few crushed tomatoes for color.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 canned, peeled tomatoes
1.5 teaspoons of salt
3 cups of canned white beans
6 ounces of tube shaped pasta like ditali
1 clove crushed garlic
In a medium sized pot, add water and 1 teaspoon of water and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta until almost cooked or very al dente. Drain but reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
While the pasta is cooking, use a separate saucepan, gently heat the olive oil and garlic until the garlic becomes translucent.
Squeeze the tomatoes with your fist and let them drop into the pot. Stir with a wooden spoon to further crush them and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Add the beans the water from the cans. Bring the entire mixture to a light boil and then simmer so that the beans absorb the flavor of the garlic, tomatoes and olive oil.
Add the pasta and the reserved pasta water to the bean and tomato mixture. Simmer over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until the pasta is fully cooked through. The pasta should be very soft, not al dente.
Ladle into a bowl and serve hot with a sprinkle of grated pecorino cheese.