Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pasta e Fagioli

Although vastly multi-cultural, San Pedro, CA is home to a large population of Italians and Croatians who are predominantly Roman Catholic.  We attend Mary Star of the Sea Parish which celebrates all of these ethnicities.  Every March our Italian brothers and sisters invite everyone in the parish to a light lunch of Pasta e Fagioli, rolls and Italian cookies. 


Borlotti beans, bay leaves, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil

After about an hour

Using an immersion blender to puree some of the bean mixture

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli
1 ½ cups dried borlotti or cannellini beans
14 oz can plum tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups water
½ lb ditalini or other small pasta
Chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese, optional
Extra virgin olive oil, optional

1.       Soak the beans in water overnight.  Rinse.  Drain.

2.       Place the beans in a large pot and cover with water.  Boil for 10 minutes.  Rinse.  Drain.

3.       Return the beans to the pot and cover with water by about an inch.  Add the chopped tomatoes and their juices, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and olive oil.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 1 ½ hours or until the beans are tender.  You may need to add more water.

4.       Remove the bay leaves.  Take about one half of the bean mixture and run through a blender or food processor.  Return to the pot and add more water.

5.       Add the pasta and allow to cook.  Stir in parsley.  Adjust seasonings. 

6.       Ladle into bowls.  Drizzle about one tablespoon extra virgin olive oil into each bowl.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

As you may have guessed, Pasta e Fagioli started out as a peasant dish, made with whatever ingredients were at hand.  Depending on the region, recipes vary.  Some variations do not use tomatoes at all preferring instead to flavor the soup with broth or pancetta.  Others serve all of the beans whole without running some of it through a food mill, blender or food processor.  It all depends on your taste.

I pretty much stuck to the recipe above the last time I made this dish.  With two exceptions.  Using an immersion blender I blended some of the bean mixture with one bay leaf right in the pot.  I did this by not moving the immersion blender all around the pot.  By blending one of the bay leaves in with the soup, it added to the overall flavor of the dish.  I also mixed some of the grated Parmesan cheese into the soup to flavor and thicken it.

Let’s take a look at two of the ingredients.  Dried borlotti or cannellini beans.  These are traditional.  If neither of these are available to you Great Northern Beans or most any other kind of beans may be used.  I would shy away from garbanzo or lentils though.  And then, “ditalini or other small pasta”.  Ditalini and small elbow macaroni are probably two of the most available shapes in any grocery store.  For this recipe I used mezze penne rigate which is a short ridged penne.  You may also use small shells, cappelletti or bowtie. 
If you want to get fancy, you can render and brown chopped pancetta, add different kinds of herbs, use broth instead of water, use different grated hard cheeses, etc.  Whatever your heart desires!  Me?  I prefer to stick with the simplicity of this recipe, the way it was originally eaten.  And it is good.  It is hearty and satisfying.

What is your favorite “peasant” dish and why?


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