The Secret Ingredient

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Celebrate St. Joseph’s Day, Italian Style!

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St. Joseph’s Day, or the Feast of St. Joseph, is celebrated on March 19th but is not widely recognized in this country. In countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, it is also Father’s Day, so holds a greater significance. However, in my Italian-American family, the day was marked with a special dish. My grandmother’s “St. Joseph’s Macaroni” is a hearty vegetarian dish; a thick soup featuring three types of beans and three types of pasta. A few years ago I posted her original recipe which is made from dried beans. Dried beans require both overnight soaking and around three hours of cooking time, so this year, I decided to try a ‘short-cut’ version. By using canned beans I cut my prep time significantly, and I have to say it was still delicious.

The three types of beans in this dish are red kidney, lentil, and split peas. The first two are widely available in cans (I actually used pre-cooked lentils I found in the refrigerator section at Trader Joe’s), but I’ve never seen split peas in can, unless you substitute a can of split pea soup, as my mother later suggested. Therefore, I did have to soak and cook those, but because they are so small they actually cooked in a short period of time (well under and hour). For the pasta, my grandmother traditionally used broken spaghetti, ziti, and elbow macaroni, and for the most part I stick to the same shapes. The only other change I made this year is that I left out the fresh fennel from the original recipe, in hopes of my kids liking it a little better.

By using a few short-cuts, cooking time on this dish is reduced by over 2 hours, but the flavor is not compromised. I have a feeling my grandmother would have appreciated those 2 precious hours, and so do I.

Simple Saint Joseph’s Macaroni

Serves 8

2- 15 oz cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked lentils
1/4 lb split green peas
2 onions, chopped
1/2 lb pasta (combination of elbows, ditallini and broken spaghetti)
6 oz fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
Olive oil
salt
Place the split peas in a large bowl and cover with water by about 2 inches. Soak for 8 hours or overnight.
Drain peas in a colander and place in a large soup pot with 1.5 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until peas are softened.
Add the kidney beans and lentils together with the pasta and return to a boil. Continue cooking until pasta is al dente.
Add the spinach and stir to combine until it is wilted
Season liberally with salt and drizzle about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil into the dish.
Stir again, and serve hot.
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