fagioli 1Christmas Eve was always a whole lot more fun than Christmas Day for me.

My uncle Oscar threw these crazy Christmas Eve parties. They were the highlight of my year.  I loved partying with Unc, loved being around the family.

This is how it usually went down…I’d arrive around 7 PM at Oscar’s house — Cat Tail Creek — right on the river, about 20 miles south of Baltimore, Maryland.  The trees that line the gravel driveway would be twinkling with Christmas lights.  I’d park the car and walk up the front steps. The door would be unlocked, but I’d ring the doorbell anyway. The “Theme from The Godfather” would chime inside.

I’d walk in the door. I’d yell “Zio!”, Italian for uncle. He’d yell “Timmer!” which is what he called me. We’d open the wine, he’d start cooking, I’d try to help, and Oscar would constantly yell at me, “What the f*** are you doing?  That’s all wrong!  I give you one thing to do, and you f*** it up! Let me show you how it’s done. Madonna Mia!”

It may not sound like fun, but it was.

The rest of the family would be there, along with wives and girlfriends and boyfriends and husbands. Oscar was ringleader. I was jester and troubadour.  Those parties were so much fun.  Oscar’s daughter gave me Batu as a Christmas present at one of those Christmas Eve parties. Best Christmas present ever.

One Christmas Eve, I had a show at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland. Annapolis is a bayside Colonial town, right on the Chesapeake Bay. Annapolis is my Mom’s hometown; Oscar’s house was not far away. The Rams Head Tavern is one of the coolest small clubs in the country – it holds about 300 people, and has been voted best concert venue in the world under 500 seats many times. It’s one of my favorite places to play.

Oscar had booked a bunch of tables front and center for the Slim Christmas Show at the Rams Head that night. I was at Oscar’s house, getting ready to leave for the show when all of a sudden –

Everyone started getting sick. Violently ill. Almost everyone in the house was suddenly under severe and violent gastro-intestinal distress. One minute, someone would be feeling perfectly fine, and then suddenly, the attack would occur.  It was disgusting. People were trotting around in a panic.  Folks were banging on bathroom doors. From the inside and out. It was not very festive. I was just glad it wasn’t from something I cooked.

Cat Tail Creek

As much as I wanted to stay, I had to leave Cat Tail Creek for the Big Slim Christmas Show. When I left, one of the Slim Family—true story—was laying on a rug outside the bathroom door, doubled over and moaning.

Merry Christmas! Love you!

I drove to the Rams Head. I felt fine. Apparently, a lot of folks in the area had the stomach virus too, because there were some empty tables at the Rams Head that night, even though it was sold-out. None of the Slim Family showed up – they all had the stomach bug.  I had brought a date to the Rams Head. We had been going out for a few weeks.  The Slim Man show went well.  So did the date.

After the Rams Head show, the two of us went back to Oscar’s house. It was as quiet as could be. Everybody had gone to bed. Nobody was laying on the floor outside the bathroom. There was no one in the huge living room, but the fire was still glowing in the fireplace. I stoked the fire, so to speak, and Slim Gal and I sat on the couch in front of the glowing embers, the Christmas tree twinkling in the corner of the room. I grabbed a couple pillows and a blanket from the couch, and we lay down on the rug in front of the fire. I put the blanket over us. It was very snuggly. Things started heating up. Some outer layers of clothing were shed, to ward off the heat prostration.

The house was dead silent, everyone was sleeping, and it was so romantic, quiet and lovely in the middle of the night.

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.

That’s when the creatures started stirring.  My Dad came out of his bedroom and sat on the couch, just a few feet away from us.  He turned on the TV, which was next to the fireplace. My Dad is deaf, duro d’orecchio. The TV came on and the sound was so loud you could hear it across the bay. The volume was deafening and startling. My Dad, of course, had no idea.

My cousin’s extremely large Rottweiler started barking furiously, and came bounding down the stairs, heading right for me and Girly-Girl. I rolled on top of Slim Babe, pulled the blanket over our heads, and whispered in her ear, “Pretend you’re dead!”

I really did say that. The dog came over and sniffed. My cousin’s husband came down the stairs and let the dog out. Some other Slim Family members started wandering out of their bedrooms, wondering what all the commotion was about. They had to have seen me on the floor. I guess everybody thought it was just me under that thin cotton throw.

Slim Gal and I were trying hard not to laugh. Of course, no one would have heard anything over the blaring TV, anyway.

“Phil! Phil!! PHIL!!!”

Somebody finally got the remote from my Dad, and turned the TV off. Some folks started milling around the kitchen, getting water and Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol. Then everybody went back to sleep. My Dad went back to bed. There was a short symphony of gaseous emissions coming from the various bedrooms. Then things got real quiet again.

We started getting cuddly again, as the fire glowed.  Things began to get a bit amorous –

Until Oscar’s wife came running out of her bathroom, waving a plunger over her head, screaming that the toilet had backed up and was flowing all over her bathroom floor. Everybody leaped out of bed, and started charging around.  Folks were bounding down the stairs. People were grabbing rolls of paper towels, and buckets and mops and dashing in and out of the bathroom. It was pandemonium.

The Slim Babe and I were still lying on the rug in front of the dying fire, hiding under the small blanket, hoping nobody would notice us.  They finally got the toilet plunged, got the mess cleaned up, and went back to bed.

We waited for a few minutes, to see if any other craziness might occur. There was no more vomiting.  No more trots.  No more TVs blaring. No more toilets overflowing. It was finally quiet.  Finally!

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…

But the vibe was busted. The fire had gone out – literally and figuratively. I walked her to the door and gave her a big Slim Kiss.

Soooo – how do you like The Family?



The Slim Babe who was with me that Christmas Eve by the fire?  She made a great pasta fagioli. She had some of the best cooking instincts I’ve ever witnessed. Oscar let her have free reign over his kitchen, which is something he didn’t even give me.

I love this soup.  It is perfetto around the Holidays, when the family is gathered around the table, exchanging blows.

Fagioli is the Italian word for beans. So pasta e fagioli means pasta and beans. Some folks just call it pasta fagioli. Some Americans call it pasta fazool.

One of my favorite Dean Martin songs is called “That’s Amore.” There’s a line it that goes like this…

When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool, that’s amore!

It’s a really good song, and this is a really good soup. The main ingredient is beans, so a big bowl of this delish dish might not be a real good idea right before a long car ride with the family.

I’ve made this dish two ways, one with beans, and one with beans and ham. They’re both pretty harkin’ good, if I may say so myself. A couple things…

I cooked this yesterday. I went to the store and bought what I needed, and went back to Slim’s Shady Trailer Park. When I opened the cans of beans and poured them in a bowl, they didn’t look right. They looked kinda gray. I took a bite of one and it tasted like soggy cardboard.

I’ve never actually tasted soggy cardboard. I’m not encouraging anyone to go out and taste soggy cardboard. All I’m saying is, the beans didn’t taste good, so I took them back and bought another brand. They looked great and were delizioso.

Here’s my point. If you’re making pasta e fagioli, and beans are your main ingredient, make sure they taste good before you toss ‘em in there. This goes for all recipes. I once was getting ready to make a carrot and onion sauce, and I tasted one of the carrots and it wasn’t good. I tasted another, same thing. I went back to the store and bought another bunch.

Slim People. You gotta give things a taste before you get started. Maybe not with raw chicken, but most of the time, give your main ingredient a sniff and a chew. When in doubt, toss it out.

This recipe calls for pancetta.  Pancetta is bacon.  You want to cook pancetta just like you’d cook bacon — brown it on one side in a dry pan, then brown it on the other. When you’re using pieces of pancetta, it can be tricky. Try and get it browned on all sides. You can use bacon, if you need to substitute.

You can use a whole piece of pancetta and dice it. I used a package of Boar’s Head sliced pancetta, and cut it in slivers, it tasted really good. If you’re a vegetarian, you can skip the pancetta.

IMG_7249Another thing…the rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese really make this soup delish. Parmigiano-Reggiano is ridiculously expensive, but ridiculously good. I cut the rinds off a piece of cheese that I had in the fridg. One rind was about the size of a playing card, the other was a little smaller. Make sure you take them out of the soup when it’s done…

Because you don’t want to serve a big old gnarly cheese rind to your Uncle Vito. Come to think of it, you might not want to give him a whole lot of beans, either. Could be explosive.

If you don’t have cheese rinds, you can give a generous sprinkling of fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top of each bowl. When I use cheese rinds in the soup, I usually don’t add any extra cheese.

But if your Snarlin’ Little Darlin’ wants some cheese, just shut up and grate.

And finally! I’ve never cooked a turkey, but I once bought a ham for the Holidays.  There was a lot left over.  I trimmed almost all the ham off the ham bone, and removed as much fat off the meat as I could.  I had about 2 cups of chopped ham.  And a ham bone.  I put it in my pasta e fagioli and it was heavenly. If you want to add ham to your pasta fagioli, go ahead. Pork and beans go together, like peanut butter and jelly!

Serves six


4 ounces of pancetta, diced

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup each—chopped carrots, chopped celery, chopped Spanish/purple onion

1 tablespoon minced garlic, about 4 cloves

¾ cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 can crushed/diced Italian tomatoes (San Marzano are best but $$)

1 large rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or 2 small)

2 fifteen-ounce cans of cannellini beans

1 quart chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

Salt (I use kosher, mazel tov!)

¼ cup fresh chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

½ pound tubetti (or any other small pasta like ditalini, small elbow macaroni)

OPTIONAL: 2 cups or more of chopped ham, and a ham bone

Here we go…

Get a large Dutch oven or a large heavy soup pot.

Put the heat on medium, and add the pancetta. Let it cook for 3 or 4 minutes, then give it a stir and let it cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. We want the pancetta to brown, so you don’t need to stir it but once or twice.

Turn the heat to medium-low and add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Give ‘em a stir. Let ‘em cook for 8 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Turn the heat to medium-high, and add the wine. Stir, stir, stir for 2 minutes.

Add the rosemary and let it cook for 2 minutes. Stir, stir, stir.

Turn the heat to high, and add the tomatoes, cheese rinds and the beans. Stir gently a few times. You don’t want your beans going all mushy. OPTIONAL: you can add 2 cups or so of chopped ham, and a ham bone.

When it all comes to a boil, put the heat on low and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir gently just a couple of times.

IMG_7259Add the chicken broth and a teaspoon of salt. Stir gently a few times.

Put the heat on high, and when it comes to a boil, lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Stir gently just a few times.

Remove from heat, and add the parsley.

Now would be a good time to remove the cheese rinds and the ham bone, if you used ham.)

Some folks like to cook their pasta right in the soup. I prefer to cook it separately, and add a little to each bowl, and stir it in. Some Lady people I know are avoiding pasta these days. Sophia Loren loved pasta, and she’s been sexy her whole life. Just thought I’d toss that out there.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box; mine always seems to take a little longer than instructed.

When the pasta is firm, not soggy, drain it, put it in a bowl and drizzle with a LITTLE extra virgin olive oil, about a tablespoon, and mix.

Put some soup in a bowl. Add a little pasta and give it a stir.

If you haven’t used cheese rinds, now would be a good time to add a little fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Or a little pecorino Romano, and…