Pasta fool? Pasta fazool? Pasta fagioli?
I saw a recipe once on the back of a bag of white beans, for pasta fagioli, and it looked wicked simple and delish, I had to make it. BUT, more importantly, here is my first pasta fool? Pasta fazool? Pasta fazooly??? Pasta fagioli???? Story.
The wife and I lived just outside of downtown Chicago in Little Italy 20 or so years ago. We had a 2 bedroom apartment with the tallest building in the world, which was just a few blocks to the east, right outside our window. A million dollar view for a clean and tidy 2 bedroom apartment that cost only 350. Anyway, it was an old stone and brick 6 flat like most of the buildings there, and next to us, across the alley, was Mr Russo. The alley, I should mention, was less than 3 feet wide. Maybe just a little wider than a person's shoulders walking down at street level, and we were 2nd floor. Anyway, Mr Russo was 80ish and had a big open terrace-like area ...what to call it....rooftop across this alley from our back door and porch. Our kitchen window was right next to his kitchen window. Mr Russo walked his wife in circles every day on his rooftop, talking to her--and she clearly loved conversing with him, she always smiled and laughed. They had been married about 60 years, and her body was alive but her mind was a victim of alzheimers.
Chicago's Little Italy was a funny place, after an Irish mayor tried to bulldoze it. Chicago is that way, you know? Always the question of "who's the boss, who's got the dough, who's got the muscle?" and its amusing because it is just such a tough city. The remainder of Little Italy was beautiful and charming, BUT that Irish mayor had built a huge highway on 2 sides, dumped several enormous and dangerous housing projects on another side, and built a huge hospital and university on the fourth side, making it this little island. There were fantastic restaurants and groceries and delis and beautiful parks and buildings within the neighborhood. Outsiders were not welcome though, it seemed. There was only one major street that minorities used to walk up to the large grocery store at the top end of the area, and you NEVER saw them anywhere else. The Italians were losing to the yuppies, though, or people like us, who were like "350 for a big apartment just outside downtown?????". Anyway, my wife had lived and worked and studied in Sicily, and she was MORE than welcome, because she knew more about Sicily than most of these Chicago born Italian-Americans, and spoke fluently like a native Sicilian...Italian too.
So, Mr Russo, he spoke English, but not well. He had been in the US since he was about 15, and in that apartment next to us with his wife for decades. His kids were long gone, to huge houses in wealthy suburbs with great jobs and Caddys and BMWs....but the elder would not leave his apartment, because it had always been familiar to his wife.
He would tap his broom on our window nearly every day to say hello or something, and very often he shared his leftover dinner with us. I remember best his pasta fazooli, as it is often pronounced---simply, pasta, white beans, tomatoes and whatever.
One winter day Mr Russo tapped on our window madly and called us "she won't get up! She fall and she won't get up!!!" and we ran over. I saw Mrs Russo on the floor and asked my wife to call 911 which she did. Mrs Russo was sitting on the floor, looking around, frightened, clearly in trouble. I picked her up and held her and she looked at me and blinked and her eyelids fluttered up and....she died. She gave out a long rattly final breath, and that was it. The paramedics arrived and took her from me.
I have never told that story to anyone.
You have to admire the Russos so much. That Mr Russo stayed in his little old apartment for years, caring for his wife there. We all live and die, and what do we learn from that story of love? I am lucky that I shared a little slice of their lives.
We moved some months later. All of the younger Russos offered apartments or rooms or whatever Mr Russo might want, but he would say he was in no hurry, although I believe he later moved to sunny Arizona with his adult grandson.
OK, my pasta fagioli? Based on this recipe which is a good start, but mine is BETTER and works so perfectly and beautifully and simply. http://www.goya.com/english/recipes/pasta-fagioli
Gary's pasta fazool
--Saute about ten-13 minutes, until tender looking, diced: 1/2 onion, either 1/2 bell pepper or a carrot, 3 cloves garlic, one jalapeno, one vegetarian sausage
--add 15 oz can diced tomatoes or pint chopped fresh, drain and rinse add 15 oz can of white beans and simmer 5-10 minutes
--add a boullion cube to 1 1/2 cups warm water then pour into pot, add one cup dry pasta, bring to a boil, turn down and cook 8-10 minutes---until your pasta is al dente and most all of the liquid gone
--season with black pepper and basil, oregano, whatever, eat up!!!! perfect and delish!
Oh Gary.... You brought a tear to my eye this morning. What a lovely story! (I'm thinking Steve and I will be eating some pasta fazooli tonight!)
oh, thank you, gosh, just came out, you know? Like Proust with his Madelines, me and my pasta fazooli...the wife reminded me this morning that I am NOT pronouncing it correctly :)
What a beautiful story and now when I eat pasta fagioli I will remember an old man's loyalty to his partner of so many years.
btw, just because I put hot peppers into everything does NOT mean you have to!
Gary, that is a lovely story. I might need to make this dish tonight... we've got everything handy but the hot peppers (and I'd be skipping those anyway). Or maybe I will wait about 2 weeks and serve it for our anniversary dinner... only 24 years, but after a story like that, it seems like an appropriate dish for an anniversary dinner.
Thanks for lovely story about love and life and pasta, and Chicago, you etc.
what a sweet story, thank you for sharing. it had particular meaning for me, today would have been JZ's 61st birthday... and as you know he died in my arms after months of caring for him... i wish we could have had as many years together as Mr. & Mrs. Russo, but i am thankful for what we had.
Oh, Gary, what a beautiful love story! And, with a recipe attached!
I'm so sorry to hear about Buster, he was a very dear dog. Labs and lab mixes are really outstanding companions. We had one named Bebo (phonetic rendering of a TV producer's name, long story) and he was a spiritual brother of Buster. I learned to love Buster through your blog.
thanks about all this....and meesh, wow, sorry about JZ, he was so young too!
I am remembering that around here somewhere I have Mr Russo's bowling ball and shoes, perfect fit for a badass bowler like me, which reminds me that the DUDE abides, does he not?
That's a beautiful story and can I just say YUM!!! I can smell your pasta fahoozie from here!
OH! Also, mr Russo is one of those elderly people who seem to live forever, so cheerful all the time, and very dapper too.
Oh, bless the Russo family!!!!
I love pasta fazzoooooolie. I especially like saying fazzzzooooooolie.
The dude does abide. What a beautifully written story. Makes me miss Chicago too....one more thing we weirdly have in common. I'll put this soup on the "to do" list!
What an amazing story, you all were lucky to know one another.
Also? I'm making your Pasta Fagioli this week.
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