Nancy Verde Barr, author of Make it Italian, says her grandmother and grandfather, who were from the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples, emigrated to Rhode Island, where they prospered. Despite the improved finances, Nonna stuck to the simple, rustic foods that reminded her of her Ischian childhood, says Barr. "We always called it by its dialect name, pasta fazoo, and it was a while before I realized that the more elegant sounding pasta e fagioli was the same peasant dish."
Here is a classic recipe:
Pasta E Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup) From The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, by Giuliano Bugialli
Flavored with prosciutto rind (cotenna), garlic, and pepper, it is served with Parmigiano. A high-quality imported dried pasta should be used, one that is also fairly substantial in shape, such as the medium-sized chiocciole (snails or shells), which are known by some other names as well.
2 cups dried cannellini beans 1 small slice prosciutto rind 1 small potato 1 medium red onion, cleaned 2 large cloves garlic, peeled 1/4 cup olive oil 10 cups water 1 cup canned tomatoes, preferably imported Italian, drained Salt and freshly ground black pepper 8 ounces good-quality imported dried pasta (medium shells or large elbow macaroni) 6 heaping teaspoons freshly grated Parmigiano
Soak the beans overnight in cold water.
The next day, cook the prosciutto rind in boiling water for 2 minutes, then rinse well under cold running water and cut into small pieces; peel the potato and cut into small squares.
Chop the onion and garlic coarsely and place them in a stockpot, preferably terra-cotta, along with the olive oil. Sauté very gently until light golden, then add the drained beans, the potato pieces, cold water, tomatoes, and pieces of prosciutto rind. Cover and simmer very slowly for about 45 minutes or until beans are cooked but not overcooked. Taste for salt and pepper, then add the pasta to the pot and cook until al dente, 9 to 12 minutes, depending on brand. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then serve, sprinkling Parmigiano and freshly ground black pepper over each individual serving.
Yield: Serves 6