Joe George

At First Bite

aph-ro-dis'i-ac, n. Food or medicine believed to be capable of exciting sexual desire.

Since the beginning of civilization people have consumed various foods in the hopes of igniting passion or enhancing sexual pleasure. The earliest and most famous, perhaps, was the forbidden fruit that Eve offered Adam. At first bite their lives were never the same, nor ours.

The word "aphrodisiac" comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty who is said to have sprung from the sea on an oyster shell. So it's no wonder that oysters are one of the more popular foods thought to be aphrodisiacal. The original playboy, Casanova, is alleged to have consumed dozens of the raw mollusks each morning, but the more interesting story is that he supposedly ate them off of a naked woman's body. Seems to me virtually any food could be considered an aphrodisiac consumed in that context.

In the 1986 movie, "9 1/2 Weeks," stars Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger offered a good example of how, given the right circumstances and state of mind, any food can be an aphrodisiac.

Martha Hopkins and Randall Lockridge, authors of the book "Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook," say that originally, the more rare an ingredient the more mystique it held, and the more mystique the more power it held over the libido. This theory of course was shot to hell with the advent of modern transportation, which made many things much less rare.

Another thought is that the more a food resembles a sex organ the stronger its aphrodisiacal powers, and that it will lend stamina and zest to the organ it resembles. It should come to no surprise, then, to learn that throughout history carrots, cucumbers, certain chili peppers and bananas have all been considered aphrodisiacs. I can't help but wonder, though, if the person that believes in these foodstuffs is not a little intimidated by them, or at the very least suffers from cucumber envy.

Another food that is often associated with romance is chocolate. The Aztecs and Mayans were the first to truly appreciate the benefits of this wonderful food by celebrating the harvest of cocoa beans with wild festivals and orgies. And Montezuma, the infamous Aztec ruler, was reputed to drink 50 cups of chocolate a day to stay virile enough to "maintain" his considerable harem. Chocolate, in fact, contains not only caffeine but also phenylethylamine. Phenylethylamine occurs naturally in trace amounts in the brain, but is present in peak amounts peak during orgasm. Chocolate makes everything better.

Honey is also mentioned frequently as being aphrodisiacal. As far back as the 5th century BCE, Hypocrites prescribed honey for sexual vigor. Supposedly, the modern word "honeymoon" is derived from an ancient tradition of newlyweds going into seclusion and consuming drinks heavily laced with honey every night until the first new moon of their marriage.

Alcohol has led to one of the biggest misconceptions in regards to sex drive. Yes, of course, plenty of one-night stands and other trysts have taken place after consumption of the innocuous looking liquid, but this isn't related to any aphrodisiac properties. Too much alcohol can actually lead to impotence, and furthermore it's a depressant. What alcohol does do is reduce inhibitions, so people will often do things under the influence that they may not otherwise. This alone can be enough for a timid person to loosen up a bit and enjoy themselves. (But it can also lead to horrendous morning-after regrets.)

The list goes on, of course. It's seemingly endless--black beans for fertility, avocados (once known as "ahuactl" by the Aztecs and translated literally as "testicle"), asparagus, celery, mushrooms and strawberries, just to name a few. But sadly there is not much scientific evidence to support claims that any foodstuff in itself is truly an aphrodisiac. Most of the theories are fueled by folklore. According to the FDA, chilies, curries and other spicy foods have often been considered aphrodisiacs because their physiological effects on a person are similar to the physical reactions experienced during sex--an increased heart rate and perspiration.

The truth is that many of the foods that are believed to be aphrodisiacs are in fact low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals. Thus a diet high in these foods will usually result in overall healthfulness, and when a person feels healthy they are also likely to have a higher sex drive. In their book "Aphrodisiac Cookery, Ancient and Modern," Greg and Beverley Frazier write that there is a direct link between a diet high in vitamins and minerals and sexuality. They go on to state that some of the most important vitamins and minerals for virility are A, B1, D, E, iodine, copper, iron and phosphorus. Not surprisingly vegetables and seafood are all good sources of these nutrients.

The one thing that nearly everyone will agree on is that what happens in your mind is more important than whatever food you eat. Mood, romance and setting--those are the true aphrodisiacs. To paraphrase sex expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the most important sex organ is not between your legs, it's between your ears.

An Abundance of Cookies

Like a mantra the recipes read: "Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs…" This is the basis on which the method for cookie making is founded. Like fine little pastries, their ingredients and methods in which they are made are everything. While cooking in general is clearly an art form it can also be a precise science, especially when baking and preparing sweet confections. As with many baked goods, when making cookies the emulsification of the butter, sugar, eggs, and eventually flour is often an exact ratio. And each of the basic ingredients in cookie recipes serves a very definite and distinct function.

Take butter and sugar, for example. Simply said, without these two ingredients there would be no cookies (yikes!). Oh sure, you could replace the butter with another fat, such as shortening or oil, but the cookies would not have the same flavor. And yes there is the possibility of substituting the butter with a fat alternative, such as a fruit purée, but then the outcome would be quite different -- it would not be an equal comparison. My theory is the same with most foods: eat the real thing, just in moderation.

The sugar in cookies adds moisture and flavor as well as sweetness; the type and quantity of sugar used in a recipe will determine the cookie’s flavor and texture. Eggs bind the ingredients with the flour and add richness and also a small amount of leavening action. Speaking of which, cookies are generally leavened with a chemical agent such as baking soda or baking powder, opposed to bread-type products that often contain yeast. And with all baked goods, flour is what makes up their substance; it creates its body so to speak. Utilizing these few ingredients -- along with a little salt -- can produce a seemingly endless variety of cookies. Simply adding any number of flavoring ingredients -- cocoa, chocolate, spices, dried fruit, etc. -- will change the cookie entirely.

Almost as important as the ingredients themselves is the method in which cookies are made, and when doing so the most essential step is the creaming of the butter, sugar and eggs. This is the initial action that pulls all of the ingredients together into an emulsification and forms a homogenous mass; the ingredients become one. Creaming the butter and sugar also incorporates a little air into the dough, which translates to delicateness.

I'm a firm believer that food likes and dislikes are ingrained in your memory and on your palate at an early age (I've read that taste and smell carry a person's strongest memories); thus, cookies have a special place in my heart around the holidays. My love of baked goods was certainly initiated by my mother and grandmother who were both avid and excellent bakers.

As a youth I soon discovered that Christmas not only brought the anticipation of gifts from Santa, but also platters of cookies and kuchen. It seems as if my mother began her cookie production weeks before Christmas (it was probably just a few days) and she stored the cookies in plastic bags within a large metal can, which was off limits until Christmas. Like having a sixth sense, my mother could hear that can open wherever she was in the house -- even if she was in the basement doing laundry.

There are more varieties of these tiny pastries that fall under the heading "cookie" than any other type of baked good, and they have been around for a very long time. Cookies are said to date back thousands of years to ancient Persia, one of the first countries to cultivate and utilize sugar; they were originally designed as a little sweet treat, much like they are today. The English word cookie is derived from the Dutch koekje, meaning “little cakes.”

The origin of gingerbread, in particular, can be traced back to the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans; the ginger was most likely first added to the dough not only for flavor, but also for medicinal and preservation purposes, and quite possibly as a status symbol during times when spices were worth as much as currency. Ditto for gingerbread's first cousin, the German cookie known as pfeffernusse, which translates to "peppernuts" in English.

A much more recent addition to the “cookie repertoire,” and originating closer to home, is the humble chocolate chip cookie. These delectable little morsels were invented by Ruth Wakefield in the 1930s. She ran the Toll House Restaurant in Massachusetts and in a supreme moment of inspiration she added chopped chocolate to her butter cookie dough. The rest, as they say, is history.

If you find yourself with an overabundance of cookies (something I personally cannot imagine) store them in plastic bags in the freezer to keep them fresh. Alternately, if the storage is intended for a shorter period of time, store them in plastic bags inside a metal can -- this will make them more accessible to the kids who cannot yet reach the freezer.

Apple Nirvana

I’ve been eating apples for the past two weeks. Not the wax-coated prettier-than-a-picture supermarket type. These are craggily looking, with ruts and off-colored spots from growing wild. They’re feral apples, of sorts. Relatively small with green skin, they’re nothing to look at, but they are delicious. I’ve eaten them raw as a snack, I’ve had them in my cereal, and I’ve had them on sandwiches with cheddar cheese and mayonnaise. I’ve even snuck them into my son’s lunch box. And now as I write this article my house is permeated with the aroma of cooking apples -- I’m simmering puree into apple butter. But still my crisper drawer is stuffed with the fruit. Am I obsessed with apples? No. I just happen to have a sister who is the proud owner of a couple apple trees.

I’ve read that if you’re a long-distance runner and you run for a certain distance you obtain a “runner’s high,” a sort of athletic nirvana. Never having ran more than a few feet, for my own pleasure anyhow, I cannot attest to this. But I can definitely say that I have a new found appreciation for this most noble of fruits. I haven’t exactly achieved an “apple high,” but I have definitely had my fill.

Apples are an interesting fruit (I’ve had plenty options to contemplate this recently) and they have an incredible story. The famed Greek writer, Homer, for example, gave mention of apples growing in his father’s garden prior to the 8th century BCE. And when Eve entered the Garden of Eden she found a fruit so perfect and enticing that she was in awe, and also tempted. Historians have claimed this most seductive fruit to be everything from an apricot, banana, or even a pomegranate, but it’s most often written that it was an apple that was growing in the garden of all gardens. In fact the Latin word for apple is pomum, which is also the Latin word for fruit, implying that the apple is the "fruit of fruits," or at least the most noble of them. These are pretty heavy facts for something as humble as a fruit that can be simply plucked from a tree and eaten without the slightest preparation.

Apples are most likely indigenous to the area surrounding the Black Sea, but they’ve been growing in New England since at least the mid-1600s. Benjamin Franklin, who was an avid farmer, is said to have had an apple orchard on his land because of his love for the fruit. There’s also the famed John Chapman, who eventually became known as Johnny Appleseed because of his penchant for walking across the country dressed in tattered clothing and armed with nothing more than sacks of apple seeds that he planted by the grove (it sounds like Johnny was a little socially challenged). If someone did this today they would no doubt be arrested for trespassing and vagrancy. Nonetheless, apples flourished in the temperate climate of the northern states, and continue to do so. They have become ingrained into our very culture. Things American, after all, are often referred to as “American as apple pie."

Apples, like most fruits, can be utilized in almost any preparation, sweet and savory, but of course the area in which they truly shine is dessert. And one of my favorite bits of lore involving apples is about the famed French upside down apple tart called “tarte tatin.”

What I find interesting about this dessert is not in its difficultness, because it’s a simple dessert to make, but more so in the ingenuity of its creation. This particular apple tart takes its name from the Tatin sisters who owned a small hotel in the Loire valley of France in the beginning of the last century. According to legend, the Hotel Tatin, which was in the little town Lamotte-Beuvron, stood close to the train station. The newly constructed line from Paris brought a fair share of sophisticated clientele to the hotel each day. Trying to impress this new influx of sophisticates, and having a wood-fired stove of old design -- one without an oven -- they developed a tart made from local apples.

This tart was “baked” upside-down on top of the stove under a covered dome, and the reason was this: If the delicate pastry came into direct contact with the heat of their wood-fired stove it would most definitely burn before the apples were sufficiently cooked. By placing the apples in the pan first, along with some butter and sugar, and then topping it with the pastry, both the apples and pastry cooked properly while the butter and sugar formed a caramel. Once this process was complete, the tart was inverted onto a plate, right side up. Ingenious pair, those Tatin sisters. Though tarte tatin is still baked upside-down today, part of the process is done so in a conventional oven, which no doubt yields more consistent results.

Just as the old adage suggests, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," apples are very good for you. On average, one medium-sized apple has only about 80 calories, contains natural fruit sugar, potassium, vitamins A and C, and more than 20 percent of your daily-recommended intake of dietary fiber. Apples do not contain any fats, cholesterol, or sodium; like many fruits they are more than 80 percent water. Much of the vitamins, fiber and other nutrients are located in the skin. Thus, to get the most out of an apple eat the skin. The skin, and the area closest to it, carries almost one third of the vitamin C content.

Apples are available year round and are reasonably priced and of good quality, but their peak season is late summer to early fall. October, in fact, is National Apple Month. When purchasing apples select those that are firm and free of bruises or dents. They should have an overt fruity, apple fragrance. Apples should be stored in a cool dark place; kept in refrigeration they will last up to 10 times longer than if left at room temperature (up to 90 days, according to the U.S. Apple Association). Apples also absorb flavors and odors easily, so it's best to store them away from foods with strong odors. And interestingly, apples emit ethylene, a naturally occurring gas that encourages ripening. Thus, it's best to store apples separate from other produce (or in a plastic bag) to prevent them from accelerating the ripening of other fruits and vegetables.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I have to go stir some apples.

The Truth About Roasting

Look up the word “roast" in any dictionary and you will most likely find a definition such as "to cook foods using dry heat in a contained oven or near an open flame."

Sounds simple, right? As with anything though, a roast can be made as uncomplicated or elaborate as one decides. I personally like to keep things simple. Once, while taking a course on French Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, I witnessed a chef roasting three capon. As simple as it sounds it was one of the most beautiful yet laborious roasts I had ever seen. First he slid the thinnest slivers of black truffle under the birds’ skin, and then lathered them with a mixture of butter whipped with lemon, fresh thyme and sel gris (gray sea salt).

After trussing the capon he told the class that while it is the norm to roast a bird on a wire rack, he prefers to do so directly in the roasting pan -- sans rack -- and turn them every 10 minutes. I felt as if he were telling us his deepest culinary secrets. After roasting and turning the birds for a mere 50 minutes he removed them from the pan and made a sauce with the drippings using vermouth and cream. The capon were crispy on the outside and tender as butter throughout. They were the most succulent birds I shall ever taste, but through the entire cooking process I couldn't help but think how not only was this roast taken to an extreme level of culinary refinement, it was also made overly complicated.

Roasting is one of the more fundamental and satisfying methods in which to cook -- it's almost primal. Though with today's food media and countless chefs promoting the "thrill of the grill," roasting is often overlooked. In truth, not only is roasting a healthy cooking method, it is also one of the oldest and quite possibly the original way to cook. When humans first began to cook foods, intentionally or accidentally, they did so by resting it next to or in hot coals.

The word roast can be used as a verb or a noun; it can refer to the actual act of cooking and also the food that is cooked, i.e. a roast. Not surprisingly, the words roast and bake are often used interchangeably. The main difference between the meaning of these two words lies in the context in which they are used.

A chicken, for example, is roasted whereas a pie is baked; bread is baked and beef is roasted. Though it does sometimes get a little confusing -- while whole-unpeeled potatoes are baked, diced (and sometimes peeled) potatoes are roasted. To make matters even more complicated the influence from restaurants and food media have actually shifted some of the cooking terminology; it is now en vogue to "roast" certain foods which only a decade ago were called baked -- fish and vegetables mostly.

Both of these cooking methods though -- baking and roasting -- do exactly the same thing, they cook foods by surrounding them with dry heat. And there are actually two ways in which one can achieve this: with an open flame (spit roasting) or in an oven. While cooking foods next to an open flame sounds romantic and is considered superior by the professional cook, the average person roasts food using the contained radiant heat of a household oven.

Before you begin to roast there are a few guidelines to consider. First, remember that roasting is not a tenderizing cooking method -- a tough cut of meat will still be tough after it is roasted. In such an instance braising would be appropriate. Food that is roasted should be done so on a wire rack or trivet, which elevates it slightly off the roasting pan, lest it sit in it's own rendered fat or juices and begin to fry or boil. Although, often a small amount of liquid can be added under the roasting rack, which will alleviate the rendered fat in the pan from smoking and also facilitate in making a sauce or gravy. And the pan that is used as the roasting vessel should have short sides as not to block the direct heat of the oven; it is this direct heat contact that produces a crisp skin or crust.

Temperature is also a major factor -- the oven should be preheated and the initial cooking temperature is often started at a high temperature (450-500F) to sear the meat, and then lowered to a moderate temperature (325-375F) to finish the cooking process. This method is especially effective when cooking sturdy types of meat such as beef, pork or lamb. And too low of a temperature should be avoided, the USDA recommends an oven temperature of no lower than 325F.

Lastly, food needs to rest before it is cut into or carved; it will actually continue to cook for five-10 minutes after being removed from the oven. This is referred to as "carry over cooking." This is a naturally occurring process wherein the juices are slowly forced to the center of the food as it cooks, then as it rests you are enabling these juices to disperse back into the meat, fish or poultry, thus creating a more tender and juicy meal.

On roasting chicken: Many instruct to truss the bird while others do not; I prefer a chicken trussed -- not only does the chicken hold its shape, it also makes a tight compact unit, which promotes even roasting. The problem that you may run into is overcooking the breast meat, but with a meat thermometer the temperature can easily be monitored. (The USDA recommends cooking a bird until its thickest area, the inner thigh, registers 165F.) Two more areas of speculation as previously mentioned are temperature and whether or not to turn a bird during cooking. Again, I like to keep it simple and have had excellent results: roast the bird breast-side-up and do not turn it; season and butter the outside of the chicken prior to roasting, keep the oven temperature at an even 375F and baste it during cooking.

On roasting vegetables: When it comes to vegetables the cooking methods that most often come to mind are likely steaming and boiling, when actually roasting -- particularly root vegetables -- may be more appropriate. Roasting caramelizes the natural sugars which are present in vegetables and enhances their flavor; often thought of as a boring winter vegetable, root vegetables become something special simply by roasting them. The addition of a liquid such as stock, wine or fruit juice will enhance their natural flavor even further (even though this method is often labeled as roasting it is technically a form of braising).

One of the trendiest vegetables of today has got to be the roast red pepper. These may be prepared over a direct flame of a gas burner, outdoor grill or in a very hot oven. The skin is actually blackened, or charred, which creates a mild smoke flavor, and then left to steam in a paper bag using its own heat. Once the seeds and skin are peeled away the remaining silken flesh of the pepper is ready to be consumed as is, on a sandwich or salad, or puréed into a sauce -- it's enough to remind one of warmer days even in the dead of winter.

Amazing Paste

There is no doubt that pasta is an incredible food. Think about it: hulled grain is ground and mixed with either egg or water to form a paste. Once boiled, this paste transforms into a foodstuff that is so simple, yet at the same time so versatile and adaptable, it seems almost a Godsend. From appetizer and soup, to salad, main course, and dessert, pasta can be tailored to fit any course or any cuisine. It is inexpensive, nutritious, and the neutrality of it's flavor offers a cook endless options.

This, of course, is a somewhat biased opinion because I happen to like pasta. No, actually I love pasta; I could eat it 5 times a week, and sometimes I do. If you've ever had the misfortune to work in the same establishment as myself you understand this completely, and you've most likely grown a little weary of pasta because of the frequency in which it's served at staff meals.

At one particular restaurant where I worked our sous chef happened to be from southern Italy. He took an immediate liking to me because -- I feel -- of my general affection for not only Mediterranean cuisine, but more specifically pasta. At the end of a long shift it wasn't a question as to whether Antonio and I would have pasta -- because we always did -- it was a question of how we would prepare it. Red wine, of course, flowed freely. Some of my best memories of that restaurant are of our meals in the hot kitchen; the rest is all chaos.

Numerous cultures have enjoyed pasta in one form or another throughout history. And while some believe that Marco Polo first brought it with him on his return from China, there is evidence that pasta evolved simultaneously in many different areas of the world. Sometimes certain foods are not thought of as a type of pasta, when in fact they are. The dough that surrounds pierogi, for example -- which, incidentally, are indigenous to the many countries in Eastern Europe, and are exceedingly popular in the US -- is a form of pasta. Pierogi are a type of ravioli by a different name. Spätzle and noodles are forms of pasta. Even certain dumplings could be categorized as pasta. And, of course, the Far East has multitudes of pasta varieties. Italian pasta, though, is unquestionably the most popular form of pasta in the United States.

The word "pasta," which means dough in Italian, translates to English simply as "paste," referring to the flour paste that it is. What I find particularly interesting about pasta, is that it is a food that is truly rooted in it's humble peasant beginnings, but at the same time has found its way to menus of some of the "hautest" of haute cuisine restaurants. Spaghetti Primavera (spaghetti springtime, or literally first green), which later became known as Pasta Primavera, for instance, is not an Italian dish, but one that was first served on American soil, and at one of the best restaurants in the country. Italian born Sirio Maccioni, the owner of the famed Le Cirque restaurant (now Le Cirque 2000), in New York City, devised the dish in an attempt to offer his patrons lighter and more waist-pleasing fare during the early 1970's.

Pasta e Fagiole (pasta with beans) and Spaghetti and Meatballs are two examples of simple and traditional pasta dishes that are as at home in America today as they are abroad. They're also two of this cook's personal favorites. Like many foods, these dishes were surely born out of necessity when meat was scarce. Beans are a logical substitute for animal-derived protein, and it's easy to "stretch" the amount of meat in meatballs by adding breadcrumbs and eggs. Though sometimes pasta is best enjoyed with nothing more than a little butter and cheese, or garlic and olive oil (truly a match made in heaven).

When cooking pasta, do so in a large amount of lightly salted water (approximately 1 quart water for every 4 ounces of pasta). If it is cooked in an insufficient amount of water the water will stop boiling and the pasta will stick together and become gummy. A small amount of salt added to pasta water flavors the pasta (it absorbs into the dough), but it's not necessary to add oil to the water -- if it is cooked correctly the pasta will not stick. Pasta water is also useful for other culinary needs, such as thinning sauces, or cooking vegetables. Pasta water carries nutrients as well as starch to add viscosity to a sauce, and vegetables that are cooked with pasta water receive added flavor.

The length of time that pasta is cooked depends on the type and shape. Your best bet is to follow the manufactures directions listed on the side of the package. Most dried pasta will double in volume when cooked. And lastly, when pasta is cooked, drain it but do not rinse it unless it is intended for cold salad. Rinsing pasta washes away starch and nutrients. If cooked properly sticking should not be a problem.

Ziti with Tomato Sauce and Meatballs

Yield 2-4 servings

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup red wine

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

1-1/2 cups tomato purée

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a small sauce pot. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, but not browned. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute. Stir in the sugar, basil, salt, and pepper; sauté another minute. Add the red wine, and allow it to simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in the broth and tomato purée. Bring the sauce to a slow simmer.

For the meatballs:

8 ounces ground beef

1/2 small onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

1 large egg

1 slice wheat bread, crust removed and torn into small pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon basil

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon pepper

olive oil for sautéing

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl, and knead them for a minute or two, or until they are a homogenous mass. Roll the meat into 16 mini meatballs. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Place the meatballs in the hot oil and brown them on all sides. Remove the meatballs from the skillet and transfer them to the sauce. Simmer the meatballs in the sauce for 45 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick add water or broth until desired consistency.

To complete the dish:

1/2 pound ziti

grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

crushed hot pepper

Cook the ziti in plenty of boiling water until al dente. Drain the pasta thoroughly, then transfer it to a large bowl. Pour the sauce and meatballs over the pasta; toss until combined. Serve while hot with grated cheese and crushed red pepper.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Oil, and Fresh Spinach

Yield: 4 servings

3/4 pound spaghetti

1/2 cup virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper flakes

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 teaspoon salt

10 ounces fresh spinach, washed and drained twice, large stems removed.

2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Cook the spaghetti and drain it. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet with the garlic and hot pepper flakes. When the garlic just starts to change color add the chicken broth and salt. Cook the broth for one minute, until it reduces by half, and then add the spinach. Toss and turn the spinach for 2 or 3 minutes, or until it wilts and is cooked. Add the cooked spaghetti, and stir it until thoroughly coated with the other ingredients. Stir in the cheese just before serving.

Pasta e Fagiole

(Pasta with Beans)

Yield: 3 quarts

1 pound dried cannellini beans

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced ham

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup dice celery

1/2 cup diced carrots

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon crushed hot pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3 quarts chicken broth

12 ounces ditalini

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

Place the beans in a bowl, cover them with warm water and allow them to soak for 2 hours. Heat the olive oil in a heavy sauce pan and add the ham, onion, celery, carrots, garlic, hot pepper, rosemary, salt, and pepper; sauté for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Drain and discard the water from the beans and add them to the simmering stock. Simmer the beans for 1 hour or until they are soft. Add the pasta and cook it for an additional 20 minutes or until the beans and the pasta are thoroughly cooked. Serve as an appetizer or a main course sprinkled with the grated cheese.

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