Posted by: philipfontana | November 29, 2017

8th PastaPost



Eighth PastaPost

Pasta Piselli


Phil & Geri



Excuse us for living, but we owe a debt of gratitude to our ancestors in so many ways! In my 6th PastaPost, coincidently, I went into considerable detail as to my family’s modest roots from Sicily in southern Italy. (Go to the bottom of the right margin here and click on “Friday Night/Recipe Posts” to read that 6th PastaPost and look at all PastaPost recipes!) It is that background that I call upon to introduce what I call “peasant food”; i.e., those dishes that every ethnic group has as part of their basic traditional cuisine that go back to “the old country.” And these recipes are handed down to us and perpetuated generation after generation and still enjoyed with much delight.

Now what took me all these years of PastaPosts to get around to this one? I guess that’s because it was one of those “peasant food” staples we grew up with and took for granted. Well, over these recent years we have rediscovered our appreciation for it! I’ve fancied up the name for you, calling it Pasta Piselli, translated, “pasta with peas”! We grew up calling it (and still do!) “spaghetti and peas.” – – That’s right, peas! Oh, not just any type of peas. To get that “just the right flavor” you MUST use those “mushy peas,” wife Geri calls them. – – The canned peas!  “And don’t forget to throw in the pea water from that can!” she directs with humor. – – Enough! We will get to the recipe in a moment. Right now I am concerned with the origin of spaghetti and peas, Pasta Piselli, from my Fontana upbringing. And that leads back to those ancestors I mentioned at the outset!

A Fontana

            Pictured here are my paternal grandparents, Philip & Vinnie Fontana, both born in a little village outside Palermo, Sicily. And yet they met in “America”! I know my grandfather, born in 1892, arrived in 1898 at age six & my grandmother, born in 1899, arrived shortly thereafter, not more than 1 or 2 years old, both at Ellis Island, New York. This beautiful photograph was taken around 1947 after they relocated from Saddle Brook, New Jersey, to Miami, Florida, where they lived for 13 years, until they returned to Saddle Brook in 1960.

B Cannizzaro

             Quite a period photograph of my maternal grandparents, Peter & Josephine Cannizzaro, taken in the 1930’s in Brooklyn, New York. Not the typical story of an Italian-American family of that era, both my mother’s parents were born here in the USA in New York City; my grandfather in 1896 & my grandmother in 1901. I don’t know the details, but I do know my grandfather, Peter, traveled to his ancestral Sicily with his parents as a child, perhaps for a short period of years, & returned. And my grandmother, Josephine’s parents immigrated from Sicily as well.



If you are following these captions above, I had a “Sicilian Full House” when it came to grandparents on both sides of the family! So this peasant cuisine, this dish known to us as spaghetti and peas, dubbing it now Pasta Piselli, was very Sicilian. Both my parents enjoyed this dish with my sister and me quite often as we grew up. It could have been handed down from either side of the family or both sides. But if I had to guess, I would say this recipe came from my mother’s side, the Cannizzaro family. My mother seemed to prepare the dish with such familiar frequency.

C Peas


And so, Pasta Piselli is not our own unique recipe. What appears below is exactly as my mother, Anna Fontana, made it. It’s just so good! That’s what this is all about; to get you to try it! How could something so simple be so enjoyable? It’s not fine cuisine or a uniquely fabulous dish. It’s just so darn good you want to have it often, again and again. It has a light red sauce as you will see below. And it’s just as good, believe it or not, with or without the garlic in the recipe! But the grated cheese added “to taste” by you, and not mixed into the recipe, is a must and makes this dish what it is! I can taste it just telling you about it!


                                                              …Pasta Piselli


½ cup oil (canola or olive…We use canola)

1 small onion (sliced thin & cut in half)

4-6 cloves garlic (sliced long) (optional)

1  6 oz. can tomato paste

15 oz. can of peas, drained (save liquid!) (We use Del Monte)

1 tsp. dried basil

salt & pepper to taste

grated cheese for individual use at the table (We recommend Pecorino Romano!)

½ lb. spaghetti pasta of your choice (We like Vermicelli)

1 tbs. salt in 3 quarts boiling water


Sauté onion & garlic (if using) in oil in medium sauce pan until tender, 4-5 minutes. Add tomato paste & fill can twice; use the liquid from the peas for 1 ½ cans & ½ can more water. Add salt, pepper, & basil. Simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Add can of peas & simmer 2-3 minutes more. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain in colander. Toss with sauce mixture.

Serve with grated cheese “to taste” individually.

Makes 2 generous servings!


Excuse us for living, but try this recipe and you will make it again and again! – -Sprinkle more cheese on it! — Mangia! – – More cheese!

Comments: Please, before or after you taste this!!!



  1. I now have a tin of peas on my shopping list….

    • Helen Devries!!! You are always “right on the money!” What better comment could I ask!!!!!!!!!! Thanks! Phil

      • I want to try this….we too like food from our backgrounds, in Scotland and in Belgium, brings back memories of the good smells from the kitchen!

    • Hi Helen and Philip,

      I prefer snap frozen peas to canned ones.

      Philip, your dish of Pasta Piselli is turning the heat up in the faculty of my appetite!

      • SoundEagle!!! I just sampled Ragtime on your website!!!!!!!! I’m crazy in love with with what you’ve posted! I love all music…choral is my thing. Classical…goes without saying But ragtime to jazz & blues is “it” for me! From the turn of the century, 20th, through the ’20’s, ’30’s, & ’40’s!!! On this recipe, there is something about the flavor of the canned peas that makes this dish! It has nothing to do with what kind of peas you like. So give the recipe a chance as is!!! So nice to meet you through Horty Rexach & you “Likes” on my comments……a tribute to you & me picking that up! Phil

      • Thank you, Philip, for your feedback on my special post about ragtime. I hope that you will kindly copy and paste your feedback here to the comment section of my ragtime post so that my readers and I can savour your response. Perhaps you could also include and indicate in your comment there which ragtime pieces in the post really resonate with you. Some, if not all, of the comments left by my other readers in the comment section could be very interesting to read too.

      • Hi Philip,

        Apart from the ragtime music, you can discover a small fraction of my music and sonic philosophy at 🦅 SoundEagle in SoundCloud: Art, Music and Compositions about New Sensations, Love, Life, Country, Nature, Dreaming, Meditation and Spirituality 🏞🎼🎶. Please enjoy!

        I have also both composed and arranged “classical music” as well as serious “avant garde” music, but they are not included in this post.

  2. Helen Devries, Hmm….Scotland & Belgium…..sounds yummy!!! Phil

  3. Hi Phil,
    To my recollection my mother never made this and it’s not in my mother’s Fontana/Roselli cookbook.
    My DNA results from shows that I’m 78% Italian from the Palermo area and 12% middle eastern. Actually I have to check the percentages again. The remaining 10% was not identified. This goes back to 1750. Did you have yours checked?


    • JOY!!! Thanks for looking at this! Ah, if this recipe is not known to you, Mom, & the Fontana/Roselli cookbook, then my intuition that this comes from my Mom’s family may be correct!!!
      Your ancestry is so interestingly great! The 78% Sicilian is the very solid roots we know of. And the history of Sicily & invasions including Muslims accounts for the 12% mid-eastern. –So be nice to terrorists???????? As for the 10%, Sicily was invaded by the Greeks, Carthaginians, French, so the 1750 date includes ethnic influences before & after that date.
      No, I never have been that motivated to check mine, knowing the above history. AND, you have reinforced what I thought.
      Many thanks! Great content here from you, all from a discussion of spaghetti & peas! HA!!!!!!!!! Phil

  4. This recipe was passed done to me,,,but frozen peas are better and adding some fresh tomatoes gives this dish more of a bounce. Definitely Sicilian, with Brooklyn can peas. Yummy either way!

  5. Bernadette! Love your comment for its substantive content & real experience with this recipe!!! I’ll tell Geri what you said about frozen peas & fresh tomatoes!!! But if you haven’t tried it this way, try this recipe once & compare the taste!!!!!!!! Delizioso! Love your comment, “Definitely Sicilian, with Brooklyn can peas.” HA! Many thanks! Phil

  6. Absolutely !
    my family used this recipe. I just needed to adapt it to my taste buds. And I add a 1/2 cup of wine when it is around.

    • Bernadette!!!!!!!! Good idea….add wine!!! It’s interesting. Since I posted this recipe, the Fontana side of the family so far is not familiar with it. But my mother’s side, the Cannizzaro family, responded how familiar it is! –Just as I suspected & said in my article on this….It comes from my mother & family. In these horrendous times in which we live, I am proud to have a website that can switch from book reviews & public policy to PASTA RECIPES!!!!!!!!!! And that includes your comments & interest as well! And I mean that proudly! Phil

  7. Looks so familiar to something that my Nonie would make. We will definitely be trying this!

    • Padre Tatro, Eddie, maybe your Nonie DID make this! Glad you & Snowie will try it! It could become YOUR “Friday Night” special pasta or one of your pastas on a list!!! Nice comment! Phil

  8. […] […]

    • Padre Tatro’s Study!!! Just saw this!!!!!!!!!! Many thanks, Padre! You are too kind to me! I love the way you promoted my recent post as “a delicious Italian dish!” –Very nice! I am humbled by your reblog as always! Now, you & Snowie might try this dish, Pasta Piselli ! You’ll love it….with “more cheese”! Ha! Can’t say thanks enough for this gesture that touches me. Phil

  9. So stealing this recipe, Thank you for sharing the history behind the dish 🙂

  10. Mavadelo, Martin!!! Thanks for taking a look! Hope you try the recipe! I love to share any background to a recipe! That’s half the fun!!! Thanks for being here! Honored! Phil

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