Shortly after moving to Hampden, I stumbled upon Daniela Pasta & Pastries. It's a relatively small family-owned Sardinian storefront on "The Avenue" with the appeal of Italy sandwiched between its four walls. There are two small tables inside the restaurant with additional outdoor seating available as the weather permits. Everything from the pasta and raviolis to the pastries are all handmade and the selection seems to change quite regularly. Every time I drop by, I'm completely blown away.
On my first visit, right after moving to the neighborhood, I had the most pleasant conversation with the counter attendant and a group of restaurant patrons (who seemed to be closely connected to the restaurant) about my move down from Philly and my domestic travels. I had my first Arancini Di Riso (crispy fried risotto balls) here, an Italian street food. I've also had divine pastries and a memorable lasagna here, and I recently had a crab ravioli (with butternut squash if I remember correctly) that was out of this world. I've even had a low tea with a friend here. So, I've made quite a few memories at Daniela.
On my last visit, I was intrigued by one of their pasta dishes, Pasta Fagioli. Unfortunately, I couldn't have any because it had ham in it, and that was all the reason I needed to buy my very first box of ditalini pasta at my local grocer. Pasta Fagioli is a cross between pasta and soup and so is this pasta. I started out by making a huge stockpot of vegetable broth with leftover vegetables that I froze to reuse/recycle (e.g., broccoli stalks, cauliflower leaves, sweet peppers, and mushroom stems) along with cilantro, garlic, quartered onions, two lemongrass stalks, carrots, celery, and salt and pepper. I covered the vegetables in water and let them simmer for about three hours over low heat. The stock had a great depth of flavor and I highly recommend a homemade vegetable broth if you have the time. Try putting it on, first thing in the morning, when you wake up and it's ready by lunchtime.
Pasta con Le Cozze
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 red onion, diced
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley (about a handful)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 lb bag of mussels, washed and cleaned
- 1 cup Ditalini pasta
- 7 quarts vegetable broth, preferably homemade
- 28 oz can Kitchen Cut Roma Tomatoes with Basil
- 2 small carrots, diced
- 1/2 cup celery, diced
- 4 fingerling potatoes, diced
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 cups Pecorino Romano, shredded
Bundle the fresh rosemary, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves together in a cheesecloth. Set aside.
In a large stockpot, cook garlic and onion in olive oil over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add vegetable broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil.
Add mussels and bundle of herbs and cook until they have all opened, stirring constantly. Using tongs, remove the mussels from the pot as they open (so they don't overcook) and set aside.
Add pasta, carrots, celery, and potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is al dente and vegetables are soft to the bite.
Remove from heat. Recombine the mussels with the soup, and let the soup rest for about 20 minutes. Remove cheesecloth containing the fresh herbs and discard.
Before serving, drizzle pasta with olive oil and cheese. For a really indulgent meal, enjoy with crusty bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil sprinkled with fresh ground black pepper, sea salt, and cheese.