Family meal in a restaurant is a fiercely guarded privilege. You simply can't ask people to come in and work like crazy dogs for 10 hours and not give them a decent meal to start off with.
I feel very strongly that if you are going to offer the meal it needs to be decent. It doesn't have to be fancy but it has to be solid and it should be made with as much love as everything else you do. It also needs to be cheap and inevitably it's a great way to use up fish or meat trimmings, things you are trying to get rid of. With pasta this is easy and one of my favorite things to do is to make a pasta stew with beans and greens and either fish or meat trimmings and some sort of small pasta shape that gets cooked in the broth. This makes quite a thick stew as the starch released into the liquid thickens the broth, much like a risotto. If you prefer the dish a little bit soupier add some broth or salted water at the end to thin it. I like it porridge-style myself, with a little grated grana and extra virgin olive oil over the top.
• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil • ¼ cup finely chopped pancetta, bacon, or guanciale
• 1 cup scraps of fresh pork cut into ¼-inch pieces • 1 clove garlic minced
• 1 small onion finely chopped • 1 small dried chili
• 4 cups broth or water • 1 cup cooked white beans or chickpeas
• 1.5 cups dried pasta (7 ounces of small ditalini-type) • 1.5 cups thin sliced greens such as Swiss chard or mustard greens
• ¼ cup grated grana padano (optional)
• salt and pepper to taste
Sauté the pancetta and pork in the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Cook over high heat until the meats begin to brown, then turn the heat down to medium and add the onion and garlic plus a teaspoon of salt. When the onions and garlic begin to wilt and turn translucent, add the chili pepper and the beans. Add the four cups of water or broth and bring up to a simmer. Add the pasta and simmer away, stirring from time to time so the pasta doesn't stick. When the water is close to absorbed add the greens and continue cooking stirring constantly until the greens are wilted the pasta is cooked through and the water has been absorbed. Adjust the seasonings and stir in the grated cheese. Serve immediately.
To read Sara's update about her first, harried weeks as the owner of Porsena, click here.