Pasta e fagioli, a cold-weather dish if there ever was one, started out as a peasant meal that made its way onto the menus of many modern Italian restaurants. It is found throughout Italy in many variations: the only commonalities among the recipes are beans and some kind of pasta. In the Veneto, where the texture of the thick and creamy soup is achieved by mixing in some mashed potato, it is traditionally made with borlotti beans (also known as cranberry beans) and bits of egg pasta. Central and southern Italian regions use pasta made from flour, water and cannellini beans. Some people puree the beans completely, some leave half of the beans intact, and yet others create a soup without pureeing the beans at all.
In our house, we prefer to use cranberry beans. Ripe cranberry beans have beautiful red and white-speckled markings on their skins, and when cooked, they turn a warm brown color and take on a nutty aroma and flavor. When we grow them at home, our harvest usually only yields one or two beans per person, so we tend to use canned beans, or we’ll buy them fresh in our local supermarket when they’re in season.
Most people know pasta e fagioli merely by a mispronounced name, sung as “pasta fazool” by Dean Martin in his classic standard “That’s Amore.” No matter what you call it, though, this dish is sure to warm you up on any cold evening.
Pasta e Fagioli
From Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan
1 medium boiling potato
1/2 small yellow onion
1 medium carrot
1 medium celery stalk
2 medium cloves garlic
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups canned cranberry or cannellini beans, drained
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces fresh tomatoes
1 large beef bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
5 ounces short tubular pasta
3-4 sprigs flat leaf Italian parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Wash the potato, put it in a pot and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook until the potato is tender, about 30 minutes.
- While the potato is cooking, peel and finely chop the onion. Peel the carrot and the back of the celery stalk and cut both into small dice. Peel and lightly crush the garlic. Peel the tomatoes and coarsely chop them. When the potato is done, put the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a 4- to 5-quart soup pot together with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place over medium high heat and sauté until the vegetables begin to brown, about 5 minutes. While the vegetables are sautéing, peel the boiled potato.
- When the vegetables are ready, remove and discard the garlic cloves. Add the chopped tomatoes and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the canned beans, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring for about a minute. Add 5 cups water and the bouillon cube. Mash the potato with a food mill or potato ricer and add to the pot. Do the same with remaining cup of canned beans. Add the bay leaf, cover the pot, and raise the heat to high. When the soup comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes.
- Add the pasta and cook, covered until the pasta is al dente, stirring often. Chop enough parsley to measure I tablespoon. When the pasta is ready, stir in the chopped parsley and serve. Drizzle some of the remaining olive oil and sprinkle the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano over each serving.in well, toss with the sauce and the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve at once.