Can you still see the kitchen calender? The church calender that was usually sponsored by a funeral parlor. Can you still see the image of a fish that overlayed each Friday? Why was that fish imposed on every Friday Those of a certain age will recall that on Fridays and on many days in Lent, meat was strictly forbidden.
The origins of this practice are lost to history. What can be said is that restrictions on meat and very often dairy, wine and oil, were included in the practice of fasting as a means of spiritual and physical purification and subjugation.For the Italian American not having meat for breakfast or lunch was never a problem. The Italian American kitchen had adopted many "'Merigan" (may - rhee - GHAN" ), "American" dishes. In America breakfast was just cereal. While for my grandmother cereal was food for animals, cereal in America was elemental to citizenship.Italian Americans conformed.
Dinner,however, was problematic. Protestant America offered no alternative to Catholic dietary restrictions,.Friday dinner reset Italian Americans in the restrictions of their ancestors. Because creating something appetizing without meat was not so easy in the 1950's and 60's Friday night dinners required a certain inventiveness that was not characteristic of the otherwise dull and gray Eisenhower era of happy housewives in frilly aprons.In our house my mother wore a frilly apron.She even made them to sell at the church bazaar. My mother's Friday night alternatives varied from the Eisenhower predictable to the 1950's adventurous.
An often repeated standard for many families in the Philadelphia area was Mrs. Pauls’ fish sticks. Kids loved them. Dipping the crispy little batons of breaded fish in Heinz’ ketchup offered the satisfaction of a finger food with the delight of the sugar and vinegar of the ketchup. Even today, they are the family favorite.
In winter Friday dinner might be a fun night of pancakes, especially when they were what we called French pancakes. These were not true crepes but regular Bisquick pancakes made thin and spreadable by the addition of more milk. The thinned batter made a dinner plate size pancake that was then rolled with grape jelly and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. What kid wouldn’t be in sugar heaven?
Sometimes we had corn fritters where a can of creamed corn was stirred into the Bisquick batter and then spooned into hot oil to fry. The fritters were then drenched in Log Cabin syrup. Could anyone create a more devastating combination: dough, sweet creamed corn, fry oil and syrup! We loved them.
But there was one more dish that made a Friday appearance. From among the pasta dishes Friday night might turn up a bowl of what they called in Italian American, “pasta-cheech.” In Italian the proper name is “pasta e ceci,” pasta and chick peas. (Incidentally, this is one of the only pasta dishes, along with “pasta fazool,” “pasta e fagioli,” that was called “pasta.” Everything else was either macaroni or spaghetti.) The traditional pasta for this dish is “conchiglie” (con-KEE-lee-ay), conch shells.
The sauce was just a simple marinara to which was added the chick peas. In those days, the chick peas were dried and had to be soaked before use. But even when soaked, they had one significant problem. The chick peas were too dry and grainy.They were like eating little balls of sand. We children did not like the chick peas.The solution: my mother substituted green peas.Today, however, a can of quality chick peas from a company like Cento is a very different product.Canned chick peas have already been soaked and have a soft and creamy texture that complements the pasta shells perfectly.
Today the meat restrictions are all but forgotten. So too, “pasta cheech” may have now passed its time as a standard Friday night meatless dinner. Even so, for vegetarians and for children, pasta e ceci offers a satisfying dinner or lunch. Chick peas are very high in protein and the shells provide the perfect carb balance. The old folks knew what they were doing without the slightest scientific background in nutrition. But if you need meat, the marinara tomato sauce can easily be transformed into “gravy” with the addition of any kind of ground meat. Sausage meat seems to work very well with the chick peas and the shells. Sprinkle on some red pepper flakes for an added edge.
I don't think there is a recipe easier than this one.
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