January 13, 2014

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e fagioli. Pasta and beans. We all know the rhyme about beans and what they're good for. But while we tend to remember the second part of the rhyme, we often forget the part about them being “good for your heart.” Beans are naturally low in fat and high in fiber, iron and protein. And they're filling, delicious and easy on the wallet.

This time of year, I can't imagine anything much more comforting that a bowl of beans and pasta. This pasta e fagioli recipe is a little unusual. I think. Not being an Italian grandma, I can’t say this with absolute certainty. But in my (limited) experience, pasta e fagioli is a brothy soup with beans and pasta.

This recipe calls for pureeing half of the beans, which results in a thick, almost stew-like texture with whole beans and pasta mixed throughout. I prefer this texture, particularly in the midst of a Polar Vortex. In the spring or fall, I'd probably leave all of the beans whole, and make this more of a soup. You can also go for a texture that's somewhere in between by adding more broth or pureeing a smaller portion of the beans.

Soak the beans overnight.

The next day, transfer them to a large pot with onion, bay leaf and garlic cloves.

Simmer until tender.

In the meantime, cook bacon in a large saucepan, then remove.

In the same saucepan, lightly brown onion, carrot and celery.

Add thyme and saute for another minute.

Add half of the cooked beans.

Then the chicken broth.

And the diced tomato.

Puree (or mash) the remaining beans with their cooking liquid.

Add the pureed beans to the tomato/bean mixture in the saucepan, along with the pasta.

Give everything a good stir and cook until the pasta is tender.

Stir in the bacon and serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

Pasta e Fagioli 

Recipe slightly adapted from De Lallo

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb dried cranberry beans
4 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
2 onions, 1 halved and 1 chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
8 oz ditalini or other short pasta
Salt and pepper

1.    Rinse and soak dried beans in a large bowl of water overnight.

2.    The next day, drain and rinse the beans again, then transfer to a big pot and add enough cold, unsalted water to cover the beans by 3 to 4 inches. Add one onion, cut in half, one or two bay leaves, and a couple of cloves of garlic, and bring to a boil. Cook briskly for 10 minutes, removing the foam that comes to the top. Reduce the heat and cook the beans gently, uncovered until they are tender. This will take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

3.    In a large saucepan, heat bacon until it is cooked and renders its fat. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.

4.    Wipe the pan with a paper towel and heat olive oil over a medium flame. Sauté onion, carrot and celery, until vegetables begin to brown. Add thyme spring and saute for a minute.

5.    Add half of the drained, cooked beans to the saucepan, maintaining a low heat on the remaining beans. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper to the saucepan, and cook on a high flame. Add the chicken broth. Next, add the canned peeled tomatoes and stir continuously.

6.    Purée or mash the remaining half of the beans and cooking liquid in the big pot. Add the mashed beans to the soup.

7.    Add the ditalini pasta to the boiling soup. Turn down the heat and simmer until the pasta is cooked. (If needed, add more chicken broth. You may have to cook the pasta longer than the cooking time on the box.)

8.      Once pasta is cooked, stir in the bacon. Cook for another few minutes. The soup will be thick.

9.      When you are ready to serve the soup, top with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Note: You can easily make this soup vegetarian. Just omit the bacon and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

Serves 8

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