Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pasta e fagioli

I spent a lot of my childhood locked in a closet, a trunk, or with a soap bar stuffed in my mouth.
She, on the other hand, always got into trouble, even when it was my fault, because she was older.
I spent years following her around and copying her every move.
She spent years figuring out how to get rid of me.
I kept her up at night, whispering and making her sing along to songs from musicals. Evita, specifically.
All she wanted to do was sleep.
When we were very young we, or rather she, used to play this game where she pretended she was dying and would say goodbye to all her dolls and stuffed animals one by one, in tears. I sat and watched and sobbed, impotent. Finally, she went to her favorite stuffed animal and kissed it goodbye and then gave it to me and said: "my beloved sister, please take care of xyz for me, make sure nothing ever happens to him/her, keep each other company and don't ever forget me". This game made me spiral into a state of desperation and I fell for it every time, even if we played it at least once a week.
We fought like there was no tomorrow, I drove her nuts and she could be pretty mean to me. But we were always together, whatever side of the Atlantic Ocean we were living on at the time, no matter what our family nucleus was at any given moment.  Our lives changed pretty often, but we were a certainty for each other, whether we liked it (I) or not (she).
That is what being sisters means: you are blood sisters and soul sisters, a bond that can never be broken.
So sure, we had our differences.
She was reserved and kept her feelings deeply buried inside.
I was a chatterbox and wore my feelings out in the open, for the world to see.
She was popular and loved to socialize.
I was goofy and painfully shy when it came to my peers.
She loved being out there, doing stuff, away from home.
I got really homesick and hated "doing stuff".
When we went our separate ways in the summer, I sometimes had to concentrate just to breathe without her. I spent the first part of my vacations away from her crying. One summer we were reunited in London after more than a month apart, me back from the States and she back from a great time at summer school. I was happy, I felt safe again. She hated it, because "seeing you means my summer is really over".
But despite our differences, we shared a lot.
Bizzare and embarassing memories, for example. Like soaking our wash cloths in hot water and then scrubbing our limbs until they were raw and red, because her seven year old self said it would get rid of germs; or almost falling into a canal on the way home from school when we had just moved to Venice and were experiencing our first acqua alta episode.
There was the time in New Delhi that we bought a really cool embroidery set at a street market and were so anxious to try it out, that we cut some fabric from the back of the luxuriously thick curtains of our hotel room while our mother was in the bathroom. She, by the way, just found out about that when we all reunited for my grandmother's memorial service right before Christmas. We had the whole family laughing hysterically with some of those anecdotes, and I'm telling you, it was so good to mix tears of laughter with the tears of grief.
And then there was the time we were in a hotel in Salzburg and had such a bad fight that we almost wrecked the hotel room (am I the only one noticing a recurring theme here?). Our mother had gone out to a ball and gave her two teenage daughters some money to get some food and watch a movie in their room. Next thing, the younger sibling was flying across the room and knocking down a lamp and some other decor in the trajectory.
If you ask our husbands, they both have stories of their first encounter with the "other sibling" that involves some kind of the physical evidence of fights prior to their arrival. Maybe, and I am neither confirming this piece of information nor denying it, something along the lines of being kicked in the stomach or an arm being twisted and bruised.
What can I say? We have had a passionate relationship and have pretty much gotten the fighting out of our systems. Now we laugh together like with nobody else. That initially loud, then totally mute kind laughter that encompasses your whole body and leaves you feeling tired and revived and rejuvinated, all at the same time, when it stops.
We are sisters and if I hadn't gotten her, I would've chosen her. She is the reason I wanted another girl, but now that I am blessed with a boy I hope every day that my kids will feel that way about each other when they grow up.
So here is to sisters, and to mine especially, who is about to land here any minute.
As the last weeks of cold weather envelop this part of the globe, here is a dish some of us won't be able to enjoy for much longer,  while others on the other side of the globe will just be getting into the mood for. Italian comfort food at its best.

Ingredients (serves up to 6)
100gr (4 oz) pancetta (omit if making vegetarian recipe)
about 2 garlic cloves
1 small can chopped tomatoes or pelati
500gr (1 lb) pre-soaked (or canned) borlotti beans (or other)
1l/4 cups vegetable stock, or more
500g (1 lb) ditalini (or other small pasta or broken up pasta) 
rosemary, sage, bay leaf (all, some or just one)
olive oil
black pepper
Parmigiano, grated
Pour a little olive oil in a pot and fry the pancetta and garlic until they start turning golden. You can also start your soup with a classic soffritto: finely chopped onion, celery and carrots. Add in the tomatoes (if you are using pelati, break them up) and the stock. You may need more than the amount I specified, depending on the beans and pasta you are using. Then add in the beans, which you will have previously soaked for at least 12  hours. Taste and adjust for salt and add in the rosemary, bay leaf etc.
When they start getting soft, break some of them up with a fork for creaminess. Then add in the pasta and cook till al dente (it will keep cooking once you take it off of the stove).
Serve with a grating of Parmigiano cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and dusting of fresh black pepper.
The day after it is even better, by the way.




  1. Che buona la pasta e fagioli! Can I have some?

  2. You write like a dream-it's sublime! I loved how you recounted that dramatic game of dying. Aren't childhoods the funniest things? :)

  3. I loved this post :-) My brother and I had a love/hate relationship growing up and I can totally relate as the younger sister! Hope you have a wonderful time with your sis!

    1. I did thanks. When she read this in my kitchen she laughed so hard she cried (and so did I) remembering.

  4. I was moved and envious by your post; I always wished I had a sister, had 2 brothers of whom I am estranged; so your relationship sounds ideal! (so does this dish with a good bottle of vino)

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your relationship with your brothers... it is never to late to try to change things (although I do realize it is silly to make this kind of statement without knowing anything about your situation).

  5. I've been on a huge soup kick lately! Thanks for one to add to my repertoire!

    1. Great! And I imagine it will be chilly there a little while longer...

  6. I love the look of your soup and I love the story of you and your sister. I have four sisters so I can relate to your words - sisters stick together! xx

  7. One of my favorite soups...it can be summer and I will still make it.

    1. True, it is good eaten at room temperature too.

  8. Thanks for sharing your sister story. Well, I am the older one. My sister is 3 three years younger.
    Happy Easter to you and your family!

    1. Thank you, hope you and your family had a wonderful Easter too!

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  10. Ack, is a great week for acknowledging sisters - and comfort food. This looks sublime.

  11. Pasta e fagioli... my Dad's favorite dish, and a trip down memory lane for me too!

  12. Wow, this is *exactly* how I make my pasta e fagioli. Just love the stuff!

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