It’s known as pasta e fagioli, pasta fagioli or, more common in this country, “pasta fazool.”
Whatever you want to call it, it translates as pasta and beans.
But that doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story of this hearty Italian dish that can come in many forms — soup, stew, pasta and sauce, with kidney or cannellini or black beans, or any of those versions with or without any variety of meat. Either way, it’s full of protein and healthy vegetables.
But I’m not here to give you the entire history of this Mediterranean comfort food. I just want to give my version. It’s based on my mother’s recipe, one that included ditalini pasta (those little tube sections) and red kidney beans. I’ve dressed it up a bit, mixing the kidney beans in with twice as many black beans, along with whole tomatoes and diced tomatoes, based on suggestions from my wife.
I used to put cooked bacon in it, and you could add sausage, chicken, pancetta, prosciutto or ground beef to create a new dimension. These days, I skip the meat and whatever antibiotics and hormones the source animal had ingested and just cook vegan.
After all, Virtuous Victuals is about healthy eating, which doesn’t mean it has no taste. My “pasta fazool” is full of flavor, thanks to the garlic and other seasonings that enhance the distinct tastes of the tomatoes and beans.
The dish is easy to make, too. It takes just 45 minutes to an hour (using the canned, not dried, beans), and it being a large soup pot full of the stuff, you’ll have enough to serve 10 to 12 people, or just a few people who won’t have to make dinner for most of the week.
And don’t fret about eating leftovers of pasta fagioli. In fact, it tastes even better the next day and the day after that after the flavors blend together overnight in the fridge. Just reheat and serve again. Just be aware the pasta might soak up a lot of the liquid. If it does, you can add vegetable or chicken stock when reheating.
The cooking process starts by chopping a couple of cloves of garlic, a large yellow onion and several stalks of celery. You want to be ready to saute. Cover the bottom of the pot with extra virgin olive oil, probably about 2 to 3 tablespoons of it, then saute the garlic, onion and celery over medium heat. Add some dried or fresh parsley and saute the mixture until the onion is soft.
Next, add the tomatoes — a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes and two 14.5-ounce cans of the diced — then stir. Next, drain then add a 15.5-ounce can of kidney beans and two of the same size cans of black beans. Stir over medium heat then add 8 to 10 cups of water. (I use the tomato and bean cans to rinse out the residual liquid.) You also could use vegetable or chicken stock, if you prefer.
Season with salt, pepper, dried basil and oregano to taste, stir and bring to a boil.
The pasta — which can be ditalini, the most popular choice for pasta fagioli, or elbow, small-shell or bow-tie macaroni — can be cooked separately, or you can put it right in with your boiling soup mixture. Cook it for the appropriate time, and dinner is ready. You can top it with some Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper or even a little hot sauce. Use your imagination.
And if you want the flavors to blend better, cook the pasta fagioli the night before and refrigerate it in containers to allow the flavors to get to know each other. You’ll like it even better.