It was quite a relief to finally come clean, at 53, to everyone on social media that I never liked pasta fagioli. How surprised was I to see so many people chime in saying the same! Of course, the main reason I shared this fact about me that drove my late father crazy, is a chef at a restaurant was making a fresh batch, walked out and placed a cup in front of me and simply said, "Try this." I couldn't be rude, and it's not like I hated it to the point of gagging before a plate (I mean, it ain't tuna fish, which to this day will make me vomit all over my "Godfather" t-shirt if someone is eating it five booths away). Lo and behold, it was DELICIOUS! Considerably spicier than my late mother's, it also had diced ham in there, which really took it to the next level. Bordering on a stew, I can now - again, at 53 - say, "Oh man, I love pasta fagioli, but it has to be made a certain way."
Now, before I present to you the list of Italian delicacies that I never liked as a child but now LOVE, please keep in mind that I grew up RIGHT. Soffrito was one of my fave dishes, and I can give ya a place in Hamden and a place in West Haven that makes it spectacularly (the latter makes a soffrito pizza, and I straight up drooled a little just writing that):
Pizzagaina: Oh yeah. Despite the fact that I can eat an entire one in one day now, and order another with the last bite still en route to my stomach, I didn't really like pizzagaina as a kid. It was a superior alternative to the hard-boiled and/or deviled eggs that plagued the Easters of my youth, but it was greasy, quiche-y and ho-hummy. Then my step-father arrived on the scene, his pizzagaina boasting chunks of pepperoni in it. Sure, it made the delicacy infinitely greasier, but I didn't give an Easter bunny's ass.
Chicola Bread: One step removed from tooth-chipping frizzelles, which I still hate, this thing confounded me. My father would eat it and do this weird thing with his face (I later realized it was him smiling) and I just wasn't down. You could pull a tooth out just trying to bite a piece, and the crunchy-by-way-of chewy innards were repugnant. Once I found out that was simply fat in there I found my heritage even more confounding. Then, one rainy day during Lent only a few years ago, I was handed a piece fresh out of the oven. Smelled good, I was hungry, and I just stuffed my fat face, despite my years of hating the thing. What was this madness? It only need be hot for it to go from gross to great!?
Escarole & Beans: Not unlike pasta fagioli, when my mother would announce this was for dinner, I knew I'd be fasting, only to later in the evening put a Stouffer's french bread pizza in the toaster oven and dodge my father for the rest of the night. Kidney beans, white beans - any bean other than the baked ones that I loved with hot dogs - had to go. I would take them out of the cupboard for food drives, be deemed a sweet, charitable lad, when I was really only being a sneaky freak. Then, one night at a pizza parlor, a friend ordered a escarole & bean pie. He implored me to try it. Certain it had to be at least a little bit better with some mozz and dough, I dove in. I can still hear the angels singing.
Fried Calamari: Ugh. Go away. And why is cocktail sauce even manufactured in the United States. It's abhorrent. Ironically, clam strips are one of my fave things to eat, so my revulsion when fried calamari was placed on our dinner table - typically at restaurants - often made my Dad wish he carried the wooden spoon on him. But one day he got smart. He asked me if I'd ever had Rhode Island fried calamari. Of course, in my head I was just thinking, "Do you mean have I ever had a dish I hate in a different state? Uh, no." I didn't realize fried calamari played the same game as clam chowder. And Rhode Island, with cherry peppers, was a game changer, gang. But still no cocktail sauce. It's tartar sauce for ol' VP. Go ahead and gag. I don't care.
Antipasti: What are we doing here? It's an Italian combo without the Italian bread. Let's be honest with ourselves. Can we just get straight to the manicotti? I don't need rolled up cold cuts, and I definitely don't need it paired with a pepperoncini that's going to bring tears to my eyes quicker than my father's zingers. Of course, everyone does antipasti different, and all it took was that one family that included roasted red peppers in there. I still invite myself over.