From Trash Pasta to Neapolitan Treasure


Faith Willinger

In Naples, pasta was once sold by weight, not in packages. At the end of the day venders were left with broken pieces and small amounts of various shapes, and these were all combined and sold as munnezzaglia, dialect for "all garbage."

Munnezzaglia is a perfect pasta to use with legume soups. Beans, lentils, or chick peas are cooked in water until tender, and then pasta is added and cooks in the legume broth, resulting in a hearty soup with pasta of varying consistencies, depending on the 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 quality artisanal pasta) with bottom-of-the-bag leftovers and broken spaghetti.

Here's a recipe for munnezzaglia and chickpeas.

Recipe: Pasta Mista With Chickpeas

• 1 cup dried chickpeas
    • 3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
    • 6 cups filtered water
    • 2 sprigs of rosemary
    • 2 garlic cloves
    • 2 cups pasta mista
    • 3 to 4 tablespoons quality extra virgin
    • freshly ground black pepper

Soak chickpeas in a pot for 24 hours, covered with around four inches of water and the salt. Drain the chickpeas, rinse them, and put them in a pot (terra cotta works best but metal is okay). Cover with six cups of filtered water, add one rosemary sprig and the garlic, and cook, covered, over low heat. Cook chickpeas until tender. It will take a long time for the water to boil and for chickpeas to cook—as much as three hours. Cool chickpeas in their broth. (This should yield around two and a half to three cups chickpeas.)

Puree half the chickpeas, remaining rosemary spring, and half the broth, and put in a saucepan with the remaining chickpeas 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 five to eight 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 olive oil 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 olive oil.