One of our favorite things to do was go grocery shopping. She would grab her fold-up shopping cart and we'd head for the bus stop. I found public transportation very exciting back then. Go figure! Anyway, in those days, if you were Italian and lived in the Bronx, you went to Arthur Avenue or Morris Park when you needed to do serious food shopping. We'd work our way down the avenue, visiting the bread stores (not to be confused with the pastry shops), the fish markets, the pork stores, the homemade pasta stores, and an assortment of of the other highly specialized food venues. Every vendor knew her by name. "Buon giorno, Signora!" they would call out as we entered each shop, "Come siete oggi?" She would smile and nod and then get down to business. My grandmother was a master negotiator. Yessiree, she could be one tough customer! When Grandma's cart was full, we'd get back on the bus and go home to survey our "loot".
If I had to choose one of my grandmother's favorite "go to" dishes it would have to be pasta e fagioli. She used to make it at least once weekly. I think that was because it's a quick, easy and inexpensive dish to prepare. Whatever the reason, I loved it. I remember many times, when my parents had to work late, it was just the two of us in her little kitchen, eating bowls of "pasta fazool", as I called it.
After dinner, Grandma would bring out the cookies and the espresso or "black coffee", as she called it. She'd put a thimble-sized serving of coffee into a cup of milk for me. I felt very grown-up sitting at the table with my Grandma, drinking black coffee and chatting. At some point, we'd end up in her tiny living room, sitting on a plastic slipcovered sofa, watching the Dean Martin Show until I fell asleep.
Although, my grandmother is long gone, I still carry her with me to this day. I wish she could have shared the milestones in my life, like my marriage to a wonderful man and the birth of my beautiful child. I wonder what she would have thought of these things. Somehow, I think she would have approved.
Pasta e Fagioli
Put a large pot on the stove to boil. When boiling, cook the ditalini until al dente, about 10-11 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, in another large pot, heat olive oil and saute onion over medium heat until soft. Add garlic and saute a few minutes more.
Add marinara sauce and water and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add beans and continue to simmer until heated through.
Add pasta and mix well. If the sauce is too thick, add a little of the pasta water to thin it out a little, if desired.
Serve in a large bowl with grated cheese and parsley sprinkled on top.