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