I fell in love with pasta e fagioli, the ubiquitous Italian soup, the first time I tasted it. I recall one particular version early in my reviewing career that was especially notable. It was served at Toscanelli, a little mom and pop osteria where Mario and Evita Morosi were the pop and mom. It’s long gone, but if anyone ever forces me to sit down and list the best restaurants I’ve reviewed in Central Florida, Toscanelli would certainly make the cut. And the pasta e fagioli would be on my list of best things I’ve tasted.
Why? It’s just a simple bean and noodle soup. Yet if I’m dining at an Italian restaurant and it’s on the menu, I’m almost certain to order it.
Then one day not long ago it dawned on me. The reason I like pasta e fagioli is because it reminds me of the ham, bean and noodle soup that my mother made so often when I was a kid. So it is the very definition of a comfort food for me. If I had played the curmudgeonly critic in the “Ratatouille” movie, the rat would have made this soup for me – and Disney would have had to rename and recast the movie. Maybe the star of “Fagioli” would have been a ferret.
It isn’t an exact match to the Italian version. And in fact there are many variations. (I’m not much of a fan of any that have tomato in the broth.) But most use ditalini, the short macaroni. My mom made her own egg noodles, long and thick. She’d use her wooden rolling pin to flatten the dough, then roll it up and slice it with her utility knife. Then she’d toss the rolled noodles until they fell open into strands. I’ve tried doing that and it never works for me.
My mom died about 13 years ago so I can’t have her show me how it’s done, and I can no longer experience her soup, though I can still taste it in my memory. (And just a side note here: If you’re still fortunate to have a mother or grandmother – or any parent – who makes something you love to eat, you’re crazy if you don’t pull out your ubiquitous smartphone and record the process next time. You’ll cherish that video someday.)
With Mother’s Day this past weekend, I decided to make the soup myself in her memory. I’d share the recipe with you but there isn’t one. But this is how it’s done.