Whenever I give lessons, I always recommend that students take one day a week when they can spend a little extra time to make something which they can use in preparing daily meals during the week.Marinara sauce is the example I usually give as it can be used in so many different ways in the Italian kitchen. Today's meal is a good example. In New York there are so many different places to buy Italian pantry items that I don't have to travel far from my own neighborhood. Still, D.O.P. tomatoes are expensive no matter where you find them. If you are unaware of the term, D.O.P. is the Italian equivalent of the European food designation, "Protected Designation of Origin" which means that the product bearing this designation comes from a special area and is made following a particular artisan method (like for example, Prosciutto de Parma). So, in the case of Italian tomatoes, only tomatoes of a certain quality grown in the San Marzano valley in Sicily can bear this D.O.P. designation. Other tomatoes grown in Italy can be advertised as San Marzano (type) tomatoes, but only the actual tomatoes from the region can be labeled D.O.P. As I said, they are more expensive, but there is a decided difference in taste. So recently, I discovered an online source for them and counting in the shipping costs found that a case of 90 ounce cans was cheaper than the price I could buy them for from my local sources. So, my marinara recipe calls for olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil and whole tomatoes which I mash up while they cook. I let them simmer at this point for about 20 minutes and they're done. A 90 ounce can makes a little more than 10 cups of sauce which I divide into 5 containers. I will use a 2 cup container for about 2 to 4 meals during the week depending of course, on whether I am cooking for just Neeta and me or more. I also happened to be in one of my favorite local stores last week that sells imported Cannelloni beans in bulk. During my "cooking day", I started the beans (about 1 pound) in the morning by covering them in cold water and letting them soak for about 7 hours. Later, I drained them and covered them again in fresh water letting the water be about 3 inches over the beans. I added a couple of bay leaves and some olive oil to the water and brought the beans to a slow boil letting them cook just above the simmer (partially covered) till they were tender. With fresh dry beans, this should take about one hour. Once tender, I salt them and let them simmer for another hour. Meanwhile, I lightly fry about 5 to 6 sliced cloves of garlic and a measure of red pepper flakes in 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil till the garlic softens (It should not brown) and the oil becomes fragrant. I add this to the beans for the last 5 minutes.
Thus armed, I made beans and shrimp one evening which were delicious but I took no pictures, and even though it was hot, made my mom's version of pasta fagiole which many think of as more of a soup but the way she made it is more like a stew. (still hot for the weather we've been having here, but I love it and so does TW).
To begin with, I sauteed onion and celery in a sauce pot. Since I'm not using canned beans or store bought tomato sauce, I eliminated the garlic. I recommend you use garlic if you are making this dish with canned beans.You must let the onion, garlic and celery get soft but not burned, so about 5 to 6 minutes at med. low heat. To another pot of salted, boiling water add your pasta (Mom always used small shells which I think are perfect for this dish)
Next, add a little chopped fresh parsley or basil and some dried oregano and cook it for a minute more.
Then, I add about 6 to 10 ounces of tomato sauce to the pot stirring it with the vegetables and letting it come to a simmer. Let everything cook for 5 minutes.
Since I made the beans myself, I add 8-10 ounces of beans and their cooking water (which has the garlic and olive oil in it). If I were using canned beans, I would first drain them and add a little of the pasta cooking water to the pot. Notice my proportions. Getting them right is an important part of learning how to cook.
Finally, the drained pasta is added to the pot after perhaps one minute of adding the beans. The beans have lightened the color of the tomato sauce and caused it to thicken. If you like the dish more soupy, reserve some of the pasta cooking water and add it.
Before plating, stir in some Peccorino Romano grating cheese and a little more olive oil off the heat.The ingredients as in most Italian cooking are simple. The method direct. What makes this meal delicious is the quality of the products you use. Try it and I think you will love it. Thanks,mom!