Visit with Bothell chef revives fascination with Italian food

If I had to summarize adventure in one sentence, that sentence would be: After a day of sightseeing in Rome, we found a table in the corner and dug into our fabulous Italian cuisine, filling our wine glasses with Chianti.
Do you love the Italian people and their culture? Are you Italian? Sons of Italy hold monthly meetings for those who are Italian or who love the Italian people and culture. Bothell’s chapter had a special guest chef last month, Helen Noce.

“Now I have a question for you,” I said to Noce. I have never seen such great big glasses. They look wonderful with your sparkling white hair.” I saw a sudden and spirited glint of fun in her 83-year-old eyes that lay behind her enormous royal blue tinted frames. She laughed and quickly replied that she only needed a matching motorcycle outfit.

Noce shifted her weight in the rickety metal chair as we sat in the kitchen of the American Legion Hall in Bothell. She reached over the counter to hand me the recipe she was cooking for the Sons of Italy meeting that night.
Noce asked if I remembered the movie “Moonstruck,” where Dean Martin sings of Pasta e Fagioli and love. Noce said, “Pasta e Fagioli” (pronounced pasta fazool)is a good Lenten recipe. She remembers her Catholic family fasting from meat on Fridays and her mother serving this delicious soup.”

Italy fascinates me and listening to Helen, I was suddenly back in time. My husband and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time in Rome. Six days to savor the flavor of the la dolce vita-the sweet life.

Masterpieces of art abound in every direction. Toss a coin into the Trevi fountain. For dinner, choose a trattoria.
But not today. Tomorrow we will see the covered ceiling of the Sistine Chapel with immortal frescoes by Michelangelo.
Today we were going to witness history—Pope John Paul II – the first non-Italian Pope in over four centuries- was inaugurated.

Very early that morning, we race down the Hotel stairs to the concierge’s desk and ask, “How do we get to Vatican City?” “Why that is easy. Go outside and follow the nuns!” “Really?” I said, moving toward the front door of the hotel. “Go! Go!” He said, as he waved us out the door.

I had thought there would be a few Nuns, but as we stepped out onto the sidewalk, the Italian streets were littered with nuns everywhere. Like black and white dominoes, they were scurrying every which way.

You could feel the electricity of excitement in the air. No one was walking; everyone was at a trot or almost running. We looked at each other and hoofed it across the foreign streets, trying to catch up.

The hurrying nuns, who had now clustered into a colossal group, led us down narrow cobbled streets. Shuttered windows with flower pots on balconies held Sophia Loren’s waving and smiling at us. We crossed the street after street empty of cars until the nuns literally jumped into a bus. No room to sit we all stand. The bus grinds and bumps, passing sights and smells exotic and intoxicating. Finally, it stops abruptly, and I jerk forward. Everyone gets off the bus.

We continue to follow the nuns who now lead us directly into Vatican City. At the entrance stand the Pope’s Swiss guards in their brilliant uniforms. We are now standing inside St. Peter’s Square.

There are rows and rows of police in snappy uniforms, wearing gloves and sashes across their chests. I hear a honk behind me. Looking over my shoulder is a line of dark limousines starting just inches from my legs. A police officer takes my arm and motions me to stand back. I peer into the half-tinted windows and see big men with many medals across their chests. Car after car of dignitaries go by.

St. Peters Square becomes swollen with more than a quarter million kneeling Romans paying homage to the new Pope.
I stand next to the Egyptian Obelisk in the middle of St Peter’s Square and realize that I am in the middle of history in the making and feel as though I must take all things in like a great giant sponge…

“My relatives come from Calbre, Italy. Most of the group tonight come from Naples,” Helen’s voice dissipated my memories as my eyes wandered back to the present.

Noce’s son-in-law, Gary, helps her bring in her large pots and prepare the oven. “The Olive Garden does not know what real Pasta e Fagioli should be!” he exclaims.

Of her three daughters, two, Maire Dunn and Judy Hunter, live here in Bothell. They introduced their mother to the Sons of Italy and asked her to cook tonight.

Noce spent ten fulfilling years as a cook for 650 children at St. Barbara’s school in Los Angeles. Now retired, she keeps herself challenged with crocheting and volunteering work. In addition, she enjoys sharing her Italian heritage.

Have you been to Italy and want to have kindred souls listen to your stories? Are you planning to make the first trip? Then, remember to throw a coin in the Trevi fountain so you will be guaranteed a return trip.

Call Tom Falcone of the Sons of Italy at 488-9811 and find new friends to share your memories with.

From the Kitchen of Helen Noce
1 cup white navy beans
4 cups water
1 cup salad macaroni
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 8-oz can of tomato sauce
2 tablespoons fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
Salt-pepper to taste
Presoak beans overnight for 4 to 6 hours. Boil beans in four cups water. Cook until tender, about four hours. Sauté onions, garlic, basil, and parsley in oil. Add tomato sauce. Add cooked beans. Cook pasta in boiling water for 5-10 minutes but DON’T overcook. Drain water from pasta and add pasta to beans.
(Shanna Celeste is a Bothell resident who enjoys sharing her stories and recipe ideas with readers. Her column appears in the Northshore Citizen regularly.)