Pasta fazool

Some time back I was assauted by the Dean Martin recording of “That’s Amore”, a hymn to love that includes the ugly lines

When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool / That’s amore

The word drool just doesn’t belong in a song about love; nor for that matter does the line “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie”.  And what’s pasta-and-bean soup / stew doing in there?

The song is a play on all things Italian-American, including Martin using an Italian-American accent in English (which came to him legitimately, from childhood), where the Italian in question is the language (with its accompanying peasant culture) of Italian immigrants to the US, that is, primarily the Neapolitan language (and its accompanying culture), of the Italian south, and not by any means something approaching standard Italian. Along with the linguistic features come the peasant foods of the south, in particular pizza and pasta e faglioli (Ital.) / pasta fasule (Neap.).

On the song (which is set in Napoli, in English Naples), from Wikipedia:

“That’s Amore” is a 1952 song by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Jack Brooks. It became a major hit and signature song for Dean Martin in 1953. Amore (pronounced [aˈmoːre]) means “love” in Italian.

The cover of Martin’s single:


And the song itself:

From the lyrics:

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
That’s amore
When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine
That’s amore
Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling
And you’ll sing “Vita bella”
Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay
Like a gay tarantella

When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool
That’s amore
When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet
You’re in love
When you walk in a dream but you know you’re not dreaming signore
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli
That’s amore

On Martin’s early life, again from Wikipedia:

Martin was born [Dino Paul Crocetti] on June 7, 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio, to an Italian father, Gaetano Alfonso Crocetti (1894–1967), and an Italian-American mother, Angela Crocetti (née Barra; 1899–1966). They were married in 1914. His father, who was a barber, was originally from Montesilvano, in Abruzzo, and his maternal grandparents’ origins are believed to be also from Abruzzo even if it is not clearly known. Martin had an older brother named William Alfonso Crocetti (1916-1968). Martin’s first language was an Abruzzese dialect of Italian, and he did not speak English until he started school at the age of 5. He attended Grant Elementary School in Steubenville, where he was bullied for his broken English.

On to the Neapolitan language. From Wikipedia:

Neapolitan … is the language of much of southern continental Italy, including the city of Naples. It is named not after the city, but after the Kingdom of Naples, which once covered most of this area and of which Naples was the capital. On October 14, 2008 a law by the Region of Campania stated that the Neapolitan language was to be protected.

The Neapolitan dialects are distributed throughout most of continental southern Italy, historically united during the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, specifically southern Lazio (Gaeta and Sora districts), southern Marche, Abruzzo [notice this], Molise, Basilicata, Campania (Naples), northern and central Apulia, and northernmost Calabria.

… Although Neapolitan shares a high degree of its vocabulary with Italian, the official language of Italy, differences in pronunciation often make the connection unrecognizable to those without knowledge of Neapolitan. The most striking phonological difference is the Neapolitan weakening of unstressed vowels into schwa.

There’s an enormous amount of dialect variation within Neapolitan (in Italy and in the US), and that will become important.

Getting at things sideways, I draw your attention to the US Neap. form conventionally spelled capeesh? or kapeesh? ‘Do you understand?’, as in the title of this 2002 book:


(Many Italian-Americans found the book deeply insulting.)

The story here is that Ital. capisci 2s pres indic of capire ‘to understand corresponds to Neap. capisce, where the final unaccented vowel spelled -e is in fact a schwa ([ǝ]], which in some dialects (including American ones) is often deleted, yielding something, [kǝˈpiš], that is a challenge to spell: capisc‘ or capish, or with English orthographic conventions, capeesh or kapeesh. Even more is going on with the pasta and beans.

On to the soup / stew. From Wikipedia:

Pasta e fagioli [ˈpasta e ffaˈdʒɔːli], meaning “pasta and beans” [also pasta fagioli], is a traditional meatless Italian dish. Like many other Italian favorites including pizza and polenta, the dish started as a peasant dish, being composed of inexpensive ingredients. Today it can be widely found, even in restaurants that do not specialize in Italian cuisine. It is often pronounced pasta fazool in the United States (after the pronunciation of beans in the Neapolitan language, “pasta e fasule”).

Pasta fagioli is commonly made using cannellini beans or borlotti beans [sometimes garbanzos] and some type of small pasta such as elbow macaroni or ditalini [or rotini]. The base is generally olive oil, garlic, minced onion, and spices, along with stewed tomato or tomato paste. Some variations do not include tomatoes at all, and are made from a broth. Modern restaurant recipes may be vegetarian, or include an animal-based stock, most commonly chicken, or meat such as prosciutto.

The recipe varies greatly based on the region or town in which it is prepared, depending on available ingredients. The consistency of the dish can vary, with some being soupy, while others are much thicker. For instance, in Bari the dish is thicker in consistency and uses mixed pasta shapes. It also uses pancetta in the base of the sauce. Other varieties call for the beans to be passed through a food mill, giving it a stew-like consistency.

This variability is typical for peasant dishes that have been around for some time; everybody’s grandma (or grandpa) has their own recipe.

(Note for future postings: time to say something on the categories SOUP, STEW, and BROTH.)

The word for “beans” varies in different Italian dialects, e.g. fagioli ([faˈdʒɔːli]) in standard Italian, fasúl ([faˈsuːl]) in Neapolitan, and [faˈsuːlu] in Sicilian. Pastafazoola, a 1927 novelty song by Van and Schenck [whose title’s spelling represents a final [ǝ]], capitalizes on the Neapolitan pronunciation in the rhyme, “Don’t be a fool, eat pasta fazool”, and the Dean Martin song “That’s Amore” includes the rhyme “When the stars make you drool, just like pasta fazool, that’s amore”.

The path here starts with Neap. pasta fasule [fǝsˈu:lǝ] ‘pasta (and) beans’, reduced in some varieties to [fǝsˈu:l], and then in some varieties, with intervocalic voicing of [s], to [fǝzˈu:l], spelled in Am. Neap. fazul or (for ordinary folk) fazool. So fazool is ‘(and) beans)’.

Time for a food picture. Here’s a pretty standard American pasta e faglioli, a thick soup with a tomato base, ditalini, and cannellini, pretty much what I recognize as pasta fazool from unpretentious Italian restaurants in the middle Atlantic of the US. If the restaurant offers pasta e faglioli, you might be getting something fancier.


[Bonus: Rachel Ray’s recipe for Pasta and Beans (her grandfather Emmanuel’s recipe):

Heat a deep pot over medium high heat and add oil and pancetta. Brown the pancetta bits lightly, and add herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables [carrots and celery], and garlic. Season vegetables with salt and pepper. Add [cannellini] beans, tomato sauce, water, and [chicken] stock to pot and raise heat to high. Bring soup to a rapid boil and add [ditalini] pasta. Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked al dente. Rosemary and thyme leaves will separate from stems as soup cooks. Remove herb stems and bay leaf from soup and place pot on table on a trivet. Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes. Ladle soup into bowls and top with lots of grated cheese. Pass crusty bread for bowl mopping.


2 Responses to “Pasta fazool”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    When you see a large eel
    that wants you for a meal,
    that’s a moray!

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    And from Rod Williams on Facebook, another variant:

    I can’t let this go without noting a variation of the song that goes, “When an eel bites your leg
    And the pain makes you beg
    That’s a moray…”

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