Two Girls in Brooklyn

After graduating from college I backpacked around Europe for a for a few months. As the holidays loomed (and my money started to run out) I cashed in on my open return ticket to come home for Christmas. It was great to be back in the states and speak American english, enjoy the luxury of central heating, and not have to lug my backpack around. After a few weeks I realized that though my hometown had been a great place to grow up in, it wasn’t a good fit for who I’d become. I loved my parents, I loved that they built us a house when they got pregnant with me, I adore the fact that they still live in the very same house, but twenty-two years (minus my time at college) was plenty of time for me to be an upstate New Yorker. So shortly after returning home I left again.



Where does one move to when one doesn’t have a job or an apartment or a plan? To New York City of course! With my best friend from high school Marisa. More specifically the two of us moved onto my friend Nina’s couch in her Brooklyn Heights third floor walk up. Nina helped me find a job at the Leaf ‘n Bean Cafe where she often ate lunch, then helped Marisa and me find a furnished sublet to rent on Bond Street off Atlantic Avenue. Suddenly it was two upstate girls living large in Brooklyn.

"Insist on plates billboard"

Advertisement on Atlantic Avenue near our apartment

Before leaving for the big apple my father tried to warn me about how expensive the city was, how difficult it would be to find a job, and about how much electricity cost. At the time I didn’t care, I wanted o-u-t. Looking back my dad was both right and wrong. New York City was/is expensive, but I wasn’t living in Manhattan, I was living in Brooklyn, which back then was significantly cheaper. I managed to find a few part-time jobs within the first few weeks I was in the city so while I didn’t have a specific career path other than to do what I had always done (i.e. cook), I had enough money to pay my share of the rent. Marisa and I somehow managed the electric bills though I can’t remember what I did, if anything, for health insurance. I certainly didn’t have the kind of jobs that provided it. When my kids are ready to move out I will probably have the same conversation their grandfather had with me. Some things don’t change much from generation to generation, but I digress.

My memories of that first apartment are slightly vague with a hint of navy couch. Risa and I didn’t stay there long– maybe it was that there was only one bed which we had to share, or it could have been the rodents who would regularly scurry across our kitchen counter and nibble at our food, and the fumes that came up from the dry cleaner’s shop our sublet was situated over didn’t do much to encourage a long tenancy either. One thing I do remember about Bond Street was learning to make Ceci e Pasta. That’s the spanish-italian-english name for the dish. Spanish because we bought the ingredients from the corner Bodega, Italian because Marisa’s Calabrese Grandmother Mama Polimino taught her to make it, and English because my Spanish and Italian were pretty pathetic. Basically it’s a chickpea and tomato and angel hair pasta soup to make when you’re starving, in a hurry but don’t have a lot of money. It’s fast and it’s fantabulous!

"ingredients for tomat e ceci

The ingredients

It takes more time to describe how to make it than it actually takes to make it, but here’s the recipe.

Ceci e Pasta

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced or chopped, depending on how much of a hurry you are in

1 can plum tomatoes

1 teaspoon oregano

1-2 teaspoons basil

1 can garbonzo beans–also known as chick peas or ceci, drained

1/4 pound capellini (angel hair) pasta, broken into chunks–Marisa’s grandmother would throw a handful into a muppin (dishtowel) and give it a whack to break it up

freshly ground pepper

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (if your budget allows)

Start a medium pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. At the same time in a large saucepan on a different burner saute the onion in olive oil, adding the garlic once the onion have started to soften. As the onion and garlic are cooking open the can of plum tomatoes and either A) chop them by hand, retaining all the juices or B) squeeze them until they are crushed into small bits then drop them into the garlic-onion mix. Season with oregano and basil then add the drained ceci.

"cooking tomato e ceci"

Quick simmer of tomato and ceci

When your water is boiling throw the capellini in and stir. It will be cooked in just a few minutes. If you want a more stew-like dish drain most of the pasta water. If you want a more soup-like dish drain only a little water and add the tomato ceci mix.

"angel hair pasta"

Angel Hair pasta

Season generously with freshly ground pepper and grated cheese. I like a lot of pasta so I often add a handful more. It really is up to the cook what the proportions are and Mama Polimino never measured with anything except with her hands and eyes.

"ceci e pasta"

Ceci e Pasta

This dish is so quick to make I’ve eaten two bowlfuls in the time it’s taken me to write this post.


Filed under 50 Recipes

17 responses to “Two Girls in Brooklyn

  1. Lisa Dewey Wells, Wonder of Children

    C – I love this…esp the old photo of Risa! (Actually, with the braid and pearls it could be my 15 yo or one of her friends. Are we old enough for our teen fashion to return?). Anyway, I love this recipe, too. In our fam of four, we have one vegetarian, one with fish allergies, one meat lover and me. I’m always looking for a dish that means one entree per night. This is on the menu for this week…maybe Elle will be in charge of making it!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Lisa.
      As they say what goes around comes around–my teenager loves the 70’s.
      I understand where you’re coming from on the multiple food issues. Some nights I stand in the kitchen wondering what one dish I am going to be able to feed everyone. Hope this recipe is a winner for your crew!

  2. Sally

    Hi Cynthia,
    I love this wonderful blog and was so delighted to find a vegetarian recipe (41 years and counting…). Pretty please post more. I can’t wait to make your ceci e pasta.

  3. Jessica Nicoll

    Cyn, Walking to work this morning I was thinking about your first few years in Brooklyn trying to sort out the chronology of your residences. I remember this apartment and being introduced to this yummy dish on visits from graduate school (where it became a staple)! Jess

    • It was tricky for me to remember the different Brooklyn addresses. I think it went Nina’s (Brooklyn Heights), Bond Street (Boerum Hill), Fourth Street (near Avenue C). Then Risa moved back to Atlantic Ave and I moved to 16th Street in Park Slope. I loved Brooklyn! I remember a dish from your graduate school days that you taught me–chipped beef on toast. Watch for that in a future post!

  4. Sandra Polimino

    Loved the picture of Risa with her braid and hearing about Mama and how she impressed you Cindy….Congratulations on being 50 and also on your many achievements! OMG – I will definitely make this recipe for Risa’s Uncle Santi! Good luck to you.

  5. Carol Polimino

    I loved the picture of Risa….I can remember it, like it was yesterday…She was such a doll then as she is today. ( Inside & Out ).. My mother-in-law was a peach and a great cook….I often use her recipe for this dish.
    Congratulations Cindy and Best of Luck to you . Aunt Carol

    • Sandra and Carol-I love this picture of Risa too! I am so glad she and I were friends in high school because that meant I was invited over to Joe and Mary’s for family feasts. Prior to those dinners I had no idea that you could actually sit at a table and eat for four, five, sometimes six hours straight! To say nothing of the magnificent food. It was all such a memorable experience.

    • parmie scicchitano

      Cindy, that is COOL. leave it to Marisa. She was always a jewelery
      person, still is. the cici and pasta was great. Wish mommy was able to see this. Ask Marisa to tell you how to make another one of mommy’s dshes. GREENS AND BEANS.

      I really enjoyed this. keep up the good work
      Aunt Parmie

  6. parmie scicchitano

    cindy that is so cool. wished my mother was alive, she would be so happy Reesa was always one for jewerly,hasn’t changed. Cindy , ask her how to make beans and greens. that is another soupy dish momma made. really enjoyed this. hope to hear more about you and Reesa;s life while living in NY. Cindy keep up the good work.
    Love Aunt Parmie

  7. Marisa

    What a blast from the past… your Baked Chicken with Honey, Mustard and Curry comes to mind as a staple – as much then as now. Just made it last week as a matter of fact – Luke the youngest and pickiest of the eaters in our house loves it!!

  8. jennifer raterman

    Hi Cynthia,
    I’m Risa’s cousin – great blog and an even better story.
    Reminds me of many suppers my mom makes and brings me back to Mama’s kitchen when I was growing up! Still chuckling over your inclusion of the word “muppin!”

  9. I love this blog. I miss that food. I miss all of my Italian friends and family. I think there are only about 10 Italians in all of Denver and my family has four of them. I miss Mama!
    Thanks for the stroll down memory lane and Ree Ree is and has always been beautiful.

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