In Naples, pasta was once sold by weight, not in packages. At the end of the day vendors were left with broken pieces and small amounts of various shapes. They were all combined and sold as munnezzaglia, dialect for "all garbage". It's a perfect pasta to use with legume soups. Beans, lentils or chick peas are cooked in water until tender, pasta is added and cooks in the legume broth, resulting in a hearty soup with pasta of varying consistencies, depending on shape. It's such a Neapolitan favorite (and gaining in the rest of the country) that nowadays it's packaged as "pasta mista". I can't live without it. My favorite producers are Gemme del Vesuvio where it's called pasta mista corta, and Gerardo di Nola where it's not listed. Neither is imported to the U.S. but both producers are willing to ship. Or ask someone from Naples to bring you a bag. Or make your own (use one brand of quality artisanal pasta) with bottom of the bag leftovers and broken spaghetti. Here's a recipe for munnezzaglia and chick peas.
Pasta mista and chick peas
1 cup dried chick peas
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
6 cups filtered water
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 garlic cloves
2 cups pasta mista
3-4 tablespoons quality extra virgin
Freshly ground black pepper
Soak beans in a pot, covered with around 4 inches of water and the salt for 24 hours. Drain, rinse, put beans in a pot (terra cotta works best but metal is okay), cover with 6 cups of filtered water, add 1 rosemary sprig and the garlic and cook, covered, over low heat. Cook chick peas until tender. It will take a long time for the water to boil and for chick peas to cook-as much as 3 hours. Cool chick peas in their broth. This should yield around 2 AND A HALF to 3 cups chick peas.
Puree half the chick peas, remaining rosemary spring and half the broth and put in a saucepan with the remaining chick peas and broth. Season with salt. Bring to a simmer, add the pasta mista and cook for around 15 minutes. Pasta will still be al dente. Remove from heat and let the soup rest for 5-8 minutes. If soup is too thick add a HALF cup or more of hot water. Soup should be spoon-able but not liquid. Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin and freshly ground pepper.
Variations: Add salt pork or pork rind to the legumes while cooking, then remove, dice and add to the soup. Or stir in a few tablespoons of grated bottarga before serving.
Note: Leftover soup will become very, very thick and makes a wonderful egg-less frittata. Sauté leftover soup in extra virgin in a non-stick pan over medium heat until browned. Turn, brown the second side, serve with a drizzle of extra virgin.
- May 2010 link to the article published in The Atlantic Magazine