Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hearty Winter Soup: Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli translates to Pasta and Beans. I haven't had this soup in ages. It was a staple when I was a child but owing to the dictates of the bean-averse in my household I hadn't considered making it myself. Until today. There were two contributing factors. One, I had to do something with the Great Northern Beans I bought last spring. I was planning to make confit but it never got off the ground. Two, my sister fed me some seriously yummy white beans when I was in New York in November and I've had a hankering for white beans ever since.

I consulted three cookbooks before settling on a recipe, ultimately choosing Dean & DeLuca as my guides. I've mentioned this cookbook before. It's a fantastic resource. It has a lot of classics but will also inspire you to try something new, though I have no intention of ever trying the recipe that precedes Pasta e Fagioli: Cabbage Soup with Paprika, Kielbasa, and Raisins. Blechk.

The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook is also good for a little recipe backstory. Of Pasta e Fagioli they say,

"Pasta Fazool, with its bizarre Brooklyn pronunciation, sounds like the ultimate Italian-American dish. And it was a staple for years of Little Italy's checkered-tablecloth restaurants - until the 'upscaling' of the eighties did away with such dishes. Today, of course, a new wave of rustic Italian restaurants in the United States is showing Americans that "pasta fazool" was based on something authentic; pasta e fagioli, or a steaming, satisfying soup of beans and pasta."

What the soup reminds me of most is Ribollita, another rustic Italian soup. Ribollita, which means twice-boiled, could also be called Pane e Fagioli, since it's basically a bean soup with stale bread cooked in. I'm making it sound gross but it's really good. If you want to try that recipe, I recommend going with the recipe in Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray's River Cafe Cookbook, which is sadly out of print, but a version of their recipe is accessible here.

My Pasta e Fagioli was fan-tastic. So perfect for a cold, wintry day. But, at 5pm this evening it was noticeably less dark and dreary. We're on the up and up, people. We have many soups days ahead but fortunately those days are starting to get noticeably longer. And here's that recipe:

Pasta e Fagioli
Print recipe only here

Serves 4 as an entree

INGREDIENTS
1/4 pound (about 1 cup) dried beans - Great Northern or Cannelini
1 T olive oil
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Dried herbs: basil, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup water
1 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 rind Parmesan (just trim the rind off of whatever size chunk of Parm you have on hand)
1/2 cup dried pasta (2 ounces) - use a small shape like ditali, orzo, elbows, or small shells

METHOD
Pour olive oil into a soup pot and set over medium heat. Add the celery, onion and garlic and saute gently until softened, about 3-5 minutes.

Add broth, water, tomatoes, herbs, Parmesan rind, and beans and bring to a boil. Simmer gently until beans are cooked and soft, about 1-2 hours.

Remove cheese rind and bay leaf and taste for seasoning, adding salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Add dried pasta to soup. Boil gently until pasta is cooked thru.

Serve, garnished with fresh basil.

No comments: