Bringing lunch to school
Every child has had the experience of swapping their lunches with fellow students at the lunch table. Kids speak of certain mother’s in reverential tones because of what they packed for lunch. However, when you’re the child of an Italian immigrant your lunches are not looked at in the same way.
While little Jimmy may have a lunch box filled with chocolate pudding, cookies and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder Bread with the crust cut off, I would have a pepper and egg sandwich on very crusty home baked bread complete with a home grown mega-peach that was the size of a small child’s head and maybe a couple of Ritz crackers.
While my friends would have their fancy lunch box with Scooby Doo on the outside, I would have a brown paper bag, not the small ones, but the big shopping bags with Grand Union stamped on the outside. Sometimes, the bag would still have the grocery receipt in it. To a child of 10, this bag looked like something you would use to go on vacation. To me it was the lunch bag from hell. My pepper and egg sandwich, wrapped in aluminum foil not a neat little zip lock lunch bag, would be dripping oil. The bottom of the bag was soaked, the peach was covered with pepper juice, the Ritz crackers smashed from the mega-peach rolling around in my lunch bag from hell.
Other times, my friends would bring in neat little soup containers, this time with G.I. Joe on the outside, with Campbell’s Chicken noodle soup. Neatly packed in their designer lunch box, would be Saltine crackers and some other great desserts. Not me, I would have pasta fasul in a quart sized Polly-o ricotta cheese container complete with a piece of that same crusty Italian bread in the same Grand Union bag, my lunch bag from hell. If I was lucky, mom would pack me some home canned peaches from last fall.
Now, as an adult, the soup and the sandwich sounds wonderful. However, at ten years old, my classmates would take one look at what I was bringing to school and instantly get very enamored with what they either bought from the cafeteria or whatever their mother packed for them. There was no trading of lunches for me.
I would beg my mom for some tradition American lunches. Plead for chocolate pudding or cookies. She would take one look at me and laugh. She would try to make me understand that the lunches I brought were far better that those other lunches. All I knew was that there was no way anyone would trade lunches with me and I didn’t like it.
One morning, I was walking out the door to the bus stop and she handed me my lunch bag. She had a huge smile on her face. Mom told me she made me peanut butter and jelly for lunch. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t believe it, I was finally getting an American lunch. On the bus and during the first part of school, I was so excited. I was finally going to get a chance to trade with my friends. Lunch time came, and I had a certain swagger walking into the lunch room.
I sat down. I could hear the theme music from a Clint Eastwood western, in my head. There I sat with my lunch bag from hell. I looked over the table. Eyeing each person’s lunch to see which one I would want. I was slow and methodical. I had dreamed of this day and no one was going to rush me. Once my evaluation was complete, I asked the table who wanted to swap. They all looked at me like I had three heads. They had seen what I had brought into school plenty of times. One of them laughed. I was undeterred. They didn’t know, I had an ace up my sleeve. I opened up my Grand Union shopping bag from hell and I pulled out what I thought was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder Bread with the crust cut off. Instead, what I got was homemade grape jelly on the same crusty Italian bread with some smashed nuts on it. No top piece of bread. I was mortified. Next I pulled out a piece of leftover Easter grain pie wrapped in aluminum foil, no chocolate pudding. There would be no trading. I tried explaining that this was a gourmet sandwich and that the pie was awesome. Needless to say, no one wanted to trade with me. I unwrapped my “peanut butter and Jelly sandwich” and to my utter surprise, it was the best sandwich I ever had. The salt from the nuts and the sweetness from the jelly was awesome. The Easter pie was awesome!
That night when I got home, I could smell the pasta fasul boiling in the kitchen. There was bread baking in the oven. I knew the next day I would have pasta fasul for lunch and for the first time, I didn’t mind.
Pasta e Fagioli
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley
1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes salt to taste
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 jar Coppola’s Tuscan Sauce
1/2 cup uncooked ditalini pasta
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, with liquid
DirectionsHeat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook celery, onion, garlic, parsley, basil, red pepper flakes, and salt in the hot oil until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, tomatoes and tomato sauce, and simmer on low for 15 to 20 minutes. Add pasta and cook 10 minutes, until pasta is tender. Add un-drained beans and mix well. Heat through. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top and of course a slice of crusty Italian bread