Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pasta and Bean soup?....

I once had a friend whose grandmother had eight fingers. Now with the unripened maturity of a 9 year old girl, having less than 5 fingers on each hand was a thing of bewilderment and wonder. How did she lose them I thought silently as I watched her strain pasta and mix it into a large pot. Could it have been during the war? Perhaps she lost them cooking, or maybe she never had them to begin with? My mind twisted and turned, seconds felt like hours as she approached closer and closer with a heaping bowl that she lovingly made for her granddaughter's after school snack. The fingerless scenarios made me feel a bit sick and I panicked as I felt my enormous after school appetite slipping... But she put before me a beautiful bowl of pasta, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and parmesan cheese. I closed my eyes, inhaled and thought "wow, this Nonna can COOK!"  

It looked so good, it smelled so good- fresh tomatoes, beans and garlic looked so beautiful on the plate. So inviting that the missing fingers were the last thing on my mind. I had one bite, two bites, three bites- it was a crazy haze of spoonfulls. The amazing thing was that I couldn't tell whether I was eating a pasta sauce or soup. It was a soupy pasta sauce! It was divine. Her Nonna smiled, bemused by my zest for "simple, peasant food" and happily gave me a second serving and third!

I thought of my long lost friend's Nonna recently and did the best I could recreating her delicious pasta dish! It was pretty darn good! The mashed beans, fresh tomato sauce and sweet garlic danced around my mouth and brought me back to my childhood days where I was exploring the most delicious Italian cuisine through my friends Nonnas- some of the finest cooks I've ever had the pleasure eating from!

1 can cannellini beans, drained and washed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes 
3 basil leaves thinly sliced
5 large ripe tomatoes, cut into eighths
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 package penne pasta
as much freshly grated parm cheese as you like!

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the garlic and cook gently cook until it softens, you don't want too much colour-just a very light golden brown. Add the chili flakes, basil and tomatoes. Cover and reduce heat to med-low for 5 minutes. Remove lid and press down the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to help break them down. Add the cannellini beans and cover. Cook 10 minutes longer. Mash 1/2 of the beans with your spoon so that they become part of the sauce. Add a ladleful of pasta water to the sauce and bring heat to med-high. Let simmer to the consistency you like. 

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook penne. Drain and toss pasta into the sauce. Top with cheese and a good drizzle of extra virgin.

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