Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli in white ramekin with napkin and spoon

This Pasta and Bean Soup is Italian Comfort Food

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans) can be found throughout Italy.  It’s a dish that everyone eats — and one that most everyone thinks of with nostalgia.  Comfort food at its finest.  And with the cold winter weather we’re having here in the Northern Hemisphere, we all need some comfort!

Pasta e Fagioli is usually served as a soup (a few versions are more like a very thick stew), and every region has its own recipe.  Heck, I think every family has its own recipe.  I recently started looking at all the Pasta e Fagioli recipes in my cookbooks and stopped when I reached the 30th different version — and I wasn’t even halfway through my cookbook collection!  So even though the basic procedures and ingredients for making this dish are pretty similar, there are countless variations.

The traditional recipe involves soaking and then cooking dried beans, a procedure that takes some time (we’re talking hours, though the active time is minimal).  And my recipe does specify dried beans.  But there’s a shortcut you can take (detailed in the Notes), which means you can actually put together a credible version of this dish in about 40 minutes.  Add a salad and you have a complete and nutritious meal.

Pasta e Fagioli.  It’s Italian for good stuff!



Pasta e Fagioli in white ramekin with napkin and spoon

Recipe: Pasta e Fagioli

In Italy, Pasta e Fagioli is made with either white beans (such as cannellini or Great Northern) or dark beans (like borlotti, cranberry, or pinto).  The bean selection tends to vary by region, and both types produce good results.  In the US, Great Northerns (white) and pintos (dark) are the most readily available.  I specify white beans for this recipe, but feel free to substitute.

Pasta e Fagioli is sometimes a vegetarian dish, made with water rather than meat stock.  It can also be made without additional meat flavoring.  However, you get better flavor with both stock and a bit of meat, so I’m adding both.

You can use prosciutto or pancetta, but I’ve opted for bacon in my version of the dish.  Pancetta and bacon are made from the same cut of meat (pork belly) and both are salted and cured.  Most pancetta is not smoked, while bacon generally is (at least in the US).  However, in northern Italy (in places like Montferrat) pancetta is often smoked too, so bacon makes an admirable substitute for their style of Pasta e Fagioli.  Most of us have bacon on hand, and it’s might tasty in this dish, so it seems a natural choice.

Preparing the beans takes most of the time when making this dish.  For best results, do an overnight soak — at least 8 hours.  (The quick method reduces this to about an hour; details in the Notes.)  Then you need to cook the beans for an hour, add some flavorings, and cook for another half hour or so.  You can make it a day ahead and reheat (but don’t add the pasta in Step 12 until you reach the reheating stage).

This recipe serves about 8, and leftovers freeze well.

Ingredients

For Preparing the Beans:
  • 1 cup dried Great Northern beans (or a similar bean like cannellini)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half (for flavoring the beans; to be discarded in Step 9)
  • 4 - 6 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole (for flavoring the beans; to be discarded in Step 9)
  • a sprig of fresh rosemary, thyme, or other herb of choice (optional; for flavoring the beans; to be discarded in Step 9)
For Assembling the Soup:
  • 4 slices of bacon
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 - 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced or minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste; optional)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or ½ teaspoon dried thyme or other herb of choice
  • ~6 cups chicken or vegetable stock; or a mix of chicken and beef stock (the exact amount depends on how “soupy” you want the Pasta e Fagioli to be; if there’s too much liquid for your taste when the soup is close to being done, you can always simmer a bit to reduce the liquid)
  • 1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 - 1½ cups small pasta like ditalini or elbow macaroni (if you use the larger amount, you’ll have a fairly thick soup)
  • Garnish of fresh rosemary or other herb, or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Procedure

The first 4 steps pertain to preparing the beans; soup assembly begins with Step 5.
  1. Pick over beans (to remove any dirt or stones) and soak 8 hours or overnight in enough water to cover by several inches.  (See Notes for quick-soak method.)  I usually leave the beans out on the kitchen counter overnight, but you can refrigerate them if you’re worried that they may start to ferment. 
  2. When ready to cook beans, drain and rinse.  Place the beans in a 4-quart or larger pot (I find that a 6-quart job works better, but the 4-quart size is adequate).  Add enough water to cover by 1 inch.
  3. Peel the medium onion and cut in half; add to the pot.  Peel the garlic cloves and add to pot.  Add a sprig of rosemary (or other herb) if using.
  4. Bring beans to a simmer.  Set timer for an hour.
  5. At the hour mark, begin to assemble the soup.  Cut bacon into strips ¼ inch thick.  Put it in a cold skillet, turn heat to medium, and sauté until it cooks through and browns.
  6. Meanwhile, peel and dice onion.  Add it to the skillet with the bacon (even if the bacon isn’t thoroughly browned).
  7. Peel and dice or slice the garlic, and add it to the bacon and onion, along with salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt; you can do a final adjustment later).
  8. When the bacon is cooked and the onion is translucent (it should take no more than 10 minutes from the time you put the bacon in the skillet), add red pepper flakes and minced rosemary or thyme.
  9. Fish out and discard the onion, garlic, and rosemary sprig that you put in with the beans in Step 3.  These were meant to help flavor the beans, and their job is now done (I usually leave the garlic in, but that’s up to you).
  10. Add the contents of the skillet to the beans.  Add stock and tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.
  11. Taste the soup, and adjust seasoning.  If you have a stick blender, you might want to give the mixture a whiz or two to break down the beans and help thicken the soup; or you can mash the beans against the side of the pot with a large spoon (optional step, but recommended).  The soup can be prepared ahead of time to this point, then cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container.  Bring the soup back to a simmer when you’re ready to serve, and proceed with the next step.
  12. Add the ditalini or other pasta, and cook another 8 to 10 minutes (until the pasta is done). 
  13. Serve with a garnish of fresh rosemary (or other herb) and/or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Pasta e Fagioli in white ramekin with napkin and spoon

Notes
  • Instead of using dried beans, you can substitute two ~15-ounce cans of white beans that have been rinsed and drained.  If you do so, skip the first 4 steps.  Sauté the bacon and onion in a 4-quart pot that has a wide bottom (Step 5).  Then in Step 10, add the beans to the pot, along with the stock and tomatoes.  You may want to increase the amount of stock by a couple of cups if you go this route.
  • The flavor of this soup isn’t quite as good with canned beans.  But using canned lets you prepare the soup in 40 minutes or so, from start to finish.
  • Quick-soak method for dried beans:  Pick through the beans, then rinse them.  Place beans in a large pot and cover with several inches of water.  Bring to boil, and allow to boil for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit for at least one hour.  Then drain, rinse, and proceed with recipe.  As is the case when you used canned beans, you may want to increase the amount of stock if you use this method.
  • Beans soaked overnight have slightly better texture (when cooked) than beans that are quick-soaked, but the difference is minimal.  In fact, nowadays when I use dried beans, I almost always use the quick-soak method.   But that’s because I usually forget to soak my beans overnight!
  • Why soak dried beans?  Because they cook much quicker when you rehydrate them.  Most beans benefit from soaking.  However, because lentils and split peas cook fairly quickly without rehydration, you can use them without soaking.
  • A secondary benefit is that while rehydrating, the beans also release some of their flatulence-inducing sugars (oligosaccharides) into the water.  When you discard the soaking water, you discard a few nutrients that have leeched into it.  But you also discard some of the substance that can cause people to shy away from dried beans.
  • You can prepare the beans ahead of time, through Step 4 (in which case cook until they’re tender – usually an hour and a half or a bit less).  Cool them in their liquid and store overnight (with their liquid) in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Then the next day, proceed with Step 5, and make your soup.
  • Although I specify adding 6 cups of stock to the soup in Step 10 (in addition to the water you’re using to cook the beans, added in Step 2), use your own judgment.  When you add the pasta to the pot, it’s going to soak up some of the liquid, so keep that in mind.  And if you leave the pasta in the soup, it will expand a bit over time, soaking up more liquid.  I suggest making this soup as directed the first time, then adjusting the liquid to suit your taste the next time.
  • For stock, I often use soup base rather than canned stock if I don't have homemade available.  Check your supermarket’s soup aisle — that’s where you’ll find them.  I particularly like the Better than Bouillon brand, although there are other good brands too.
  • Italian cooks often make stock using both chicken and beef, so mixing the two in Step 10 is traditional and makes sense. 
  • This isn’t a quick recipe, so you’ll want to prepare it on a day when you’re around the house — perhaps on a weekend.  However, as noted above, it freezes quite well.  You can take this from the freezer, put it in a saucepan with a bit of water, and be eating soup in about 20 minutes.  When reheating, you’ll want to watch the pot a bit after the first 5 minutes so the soup doesn’t scorch on the bottom of the pan.  Just stir it from time to time to prevent this.
Pasta e Fagioli in bowl with spoons and napkins in background

World Class Eaters

“I wonder if we were Italians in a prior life?” Mrs Kitchen Riffs asked.  “I mean, look at the way we’re inhaling this soup!”

“Maybe,” I said, scraping my spoon against the bottom of my bowl.  “But we’re pretty much the same when we eat Indian, or Chinese, or — well, anything.”

“True,” she said.  “I guess we’re citizens of the world.  Stomach wise, I mean.  But this soup is something special, you have to admit.  Say, did you really find 30 different recipes for it?”

“Yup.  And there’s more,” I said.  “Knowing us, we’ll end up trying them all.  But first things first!  My soup bowl is empty.  And so is yours.”  I nodded at the tureen.  “Seconds?”

Mrs K R slid her bowl across the table to me.  “I thought you’d never ask.”

You may also enjoy reading about:
White Bean and Potato Soup
Black-Eyed Pea and Collard Green Soup
Bean and Cabbage Soup
Tuscan Bean Soup
Easy Lentil Soup
Split Pea Soup with Greens
Split Pea Soup with Bacon
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Soupe au Pistou
Sweet Potato Soup with Chilies and Corn
Fennel Soup with Shrimp and Beans
Stock Basics
Pasta with Quick Tomato and Bacon Sauce

70 comments:

  1. One of my favorite comfort soups - I usually make a vegetarian version but haven't in a while - thanks for the reminder! "Citizens of the world" I like that!

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    1. Hi Alyssa, I often do a vegetarian version, too. The beans and their broth are so good you really don't need much extra flavoring. But when I do that, I always cook the pasta separately - otherwise the dish comes out more like a extremely thick stew rather than a soup (at least the way I tend to make it). Thanks for the comment.

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  2. This soup looks so good. I feel like I'm living on soup these days. In fact my daughter just went out to get some for me since I haven't been cooking much. It's been one thing after another with me, I'm ready to feel back to normal. Love this recipe. I'll definitely make it!

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    1. Hi Vicki, it's really a great soup. Sorry to hear you've been under the weather, and I certainly hope you're back in top form soon. Thanks for the comment.

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  3. My mum makes a vegetable pasta soup very similar to this and it is definitely the ultimate comfort food :)

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

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    1. Hi Uru, isn't this sort of dish so good? It's summer where you are so perhaps not as tempting, but in a few months it will be! Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Mmmm - One of my favorite soups - Thx for the reminder, I'll have to make some :-)

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    1. Hi CJ, good stuff, isn't it? I have some in the freezer that's calling me. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  5. This is a good hearty Italian soup which my husband loves but I stay away from beans as they do not like me. It looks very healthy.

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    1. Hi Suzanne, too bad you can't eat this! But it's always important to listen to your body. Thanks for the comment.

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  6. It's very cold here in northern CA, and it's almost lunch time. I stumbled upon this post by accident, and now I want this soup badly!
    I got to check if I have all of the ingredients to make myself some of this. Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Hi Priscilla, I hope you had a great lunch! ;-) This really is such a nice soup, and perfect for cold weather. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. I made bean soup last night! If I had added pasta I would have been close to this. So good and good for you. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Abbe yup, probably the pasta was all you needed! Truth be told, a bean soup is a bean soup is a bean soup - but the little variations do make a difference. Thanks for the comment.

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  8. I'd be having a second helping too. I love this soup; it's so full of flavour and texture and is just perfect for a cooler night. It's a little hot for soup here in Sydney so I'll have to remember this for when the seasons change xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, it is too hot for this soup for you now, but in less time than you want to think about you'll be craving it. (And I'll be craving gazpacho!). Thanks for the comment.

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  9. This is such a great dish, John, and perfect for our current weather. If there is such a thing as Italian comfort food, this would certainly fall into that category. I once had a great recipe for Pasta e Fagioli but lost it long ago. You've given me the bug to try one last time to find that recipe. And if I can't find it, your recipe here will do very nicely. What I like most about your recipe is its simplicity. The flavors aren't at all muddled. I'd be willing to bet you can taste each ingredient. Perfect!
    Thanks, John, for sharing a fantastic recipe.

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    1. Hi John, this is a pretty simple basic recipe, which is what I like about it. It's basically a distillation of a whole bunch of different recipes. But there really are only a handful of recipes for this soup, as far as I can see, and many, many variations. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. It's true -- canned beans are ever so convenient. But if you take the time -- like this -- to cook your own, it makes a world of difference in flavor.

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    1. Hi Carolyn, in this dish, in particular, the flavor of your own beans is so much better than the canned. Still, if you don't have the time to cook from scratch, the canned are OK. But this one dish where I almost always (OK, always!) cook my own beans. Thanks for the comment.

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  11. One of my fave soups, however I have never made my own pasta e fagioli yet!

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    1. Hi Natalie, it takes a bit of time, but it's a pretty easy soup to make. Worth doing, IMO. Thanks for the comment.

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  12. This is one dish I've seen over and over but never made! Thanks for doing all the research...I'll take the easy route, and make your recipe!

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    1. Hi Lizzy, it's a great soup - and so good. Trust me, once you make my recipe, you'll be changing things up every time you make it - it's that kind of a soup. Thanks for the comment.

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  13. This is gorgeous soup! I don't know if it's the soup or your photographic skills but in either case - I want some of your soup. :)

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    1. Hi Maureen, I've got some in the freezer so come on over and I'll be happy to serve you some! Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

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  14. I order this at the restaurants but never made it at home. Well, I guess it is time with this weather. Have everything at home.

    It is amazing how many variations of simple recipes there are.

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    1. Hi Ilke, this is one of those fun recipes that once you understand the basic algorithm (basically beans + liquid + flavorings, mainly veggie + pasta) that you can play around with it, and make something new each time. And it really is time for a soup like this now that winter seems to have finally arrived. Thanks for the comment.

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  15. Perfect for a cold weather, a very comforting and warming dish

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    1. Hi Raymund, it really is a great dish! Yummy, too, which is the best part. Thanks for the comment.

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  16. One of my very favourites in its classic garb :) ! Am smiling at your answer to Charlie: uhuh, gazpacho like offerings are so much more in our alley just now [43 C on my thermometer at the moment and going up = not earthshatteringly wonderful! At least have not heard the piercing alarms of the fire trucks!]. Thanks also for the list of all the other unctious offerings :) !

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    1. Hi Eha, isn't this soup wonderful? We had a really hot summer, and it sounds like you are having the same. Ice cream probably sounds better than soup! Thanks for the comment.

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  17. Apparently the cold weather has many of us thinking about how to stay warm and soup is definitely the answer! This is a great little soup! Love the combination of white beans and smoked meats like bacon/pancetta. The pasta definitely makes it stick to your bones - a good thing! :) Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi MJ, we're all so predictable, aren't we? ;-) But when it's cold, soup's on! Thanks for the comment.

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  18. Perfect comfort food for cold winter days. Sounds so yummy!

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    1. Hi Dawn, yummy it is! And it really is so warming - good stuff. Thanks for the comment.

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  19. If I had the energy to get out of bed (courtesy of a blooming cold), I would definitely make this in a heartbeat. It'll be the first thing I do once I can. Something worth getting well for, indeed!

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    1. Hi Ala,sorry about your cold - if it's any consolation, it seems like there's something really nasty going around all over the country (both flu and a cold that won't quit). Speedy recovery, and enjoy the soup! Thanks for the comment.

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  20. I really want a bowl of this right now, it looks fantastic! I love everything about it, I think I"d slide my bowl over at least two or three times for refills, for sure!

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    1. Hi Chris, it tastes much, much better than it looks! And seconds are mandatory. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  21. This weather calls for a bowl or two of this soup! Love cannellini beans, although had to order it in bulk as well, so now we have it every week in one form or another. :) I finally found some fennel, come see what I've made. :)

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    1. Hi Marina, it's definitely soup weather! Cannellini beans are good enough that they're worth ordering in bulk. I'll check out what you've made in a bit - thanks for commenting.

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  22. I love pasta e Fagioli,especially on cold winter days.You are right,every Italian family has its own recipe of this dish.I'll definitely go for the shortcut which sounds equally delicious and safes time. Thank you,great recipe!

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    1. Hi Daniela, the shortcut is a huge time saver. Not quite as good as the long version, but quite decent. Thanks for the comment.

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  23. Oh my--this looks super delish! I just got my February Bon Appetit in the mail yesterday and viola--it's a pasta issue! And guess what? I JUST this morning added to my grocery list a little note to be sure to pick up ditalini for this EXACT soup--Too funny! Pasta e Fagioli indeed!

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    1. Hi Kelly, it's definitely the time of year for Pasta e Fagioli! ;-) Good stuff, isn't it? And the vegan versions, which I know you'll make, are extremely good. Thanks for the comment.

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  24. There are so many delicious soup recipes coming from the Northern Hemisphere right now! This one looks great, must admit I've never made Pasta e Fagioli, but I do enjoy it!

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    1. Hi Ali, I think we're all soup mad up here! But in a few months we'll all be talking about the hot weather and making ice cream, while you're craving soup. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  25. MMM talk about comfort food :) I would love to try this recipe.

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    1. Kristi, this really is comfort food with a capital C! Definitely worth trying sometime. Thanks for the comment.

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  26. A nutritious, comforting and delicious soup! Just what I'd need now with the weather we are experiencing here at the moment...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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    1. Hi Rosa, it's definitely soup weather! And this is a good one. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  27. I love Pasta e Fagioli soup, and somehow I've never gotten around to posting a recipe. (I have to admit that mine uses canned beans). Your version looks terrific.

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    1. Hi Beth, I actually found it hard to post a recipe because every time I make it, I change something! But this is probably my "basic" recipe. Thanks for the comment.

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  28. One of my favorite soups. I like all the ingredients; especially the addition of bacon. Looks absolutely delicious! Easy to inhale this soup; love it!

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    1. Hi Judy, I like the bacon, too. But then, I'm bacon obsessed! Although it's good without it, I like the smoky touch it adds. Thanks for the comment.

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  29. I often wonder if I was Italian in a previous life. It would explain a lot. This is a perfect soup for a chilly winter day! The ditalini looks so good with the beans.

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    1. Hi Lisa, yeah, having been Italian in a previous life really makes so much sense for me too. ;-) This is such a wonderful soup - really full of flavor. One of my faves. Thanks for your comment.

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  30. Appropriate name, because it really is good stuff! This is my favorite soup whenever I go to Olive Garden:-) I definitely need to to make it, it looks fun and easy to make:-) Yum, Terra

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    1. Hi Terra, this dish is pretty easy to make, and so simple to adjust ingredients and quantities to the way you like it. Good stuff indeed! Thanks for the comment.

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  31. One of my favorite soups and it doesn't even have to be cold outside for me to make a pot full.

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    1. Hi Karen, I make this when it's not that cold too! Such a great soup. I don't make it during the summer (too heavy), but the other 9 months of the year? Absolutely! Thanks for the comment.

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  32. I love your international repertoires. I make Japanese dishes most of the time at home and some Western dishes which I learn from blogs. :) I love this comforting pasta and beans!

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    1. Hi Nami, I make Japanese dishes I learn from your blog! This is a great dish, and it's pretty easy in that most of the time it takes doesn't require any attention. And it has such a full flavor! Thanks for the comment.

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  33. I always think of this soup as the Italian version of chili :) So comforting. I"m used to the vegetarian versions but would never turn down a recipe for it that specifies the use of bacon!

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    1. Hi Food Jaunts, that's a really good comparison! The veggie versions are awfully good, although I'm with you on the bacon. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  34. Mmm I adore Italian bean soups - especially my fave, ribollita. This one looks great too!

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    1. Hi Christine, ribollita is a wonderful soup! As is this one. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  35. Totally digging this one. It's such a classic and you did it proud mister.

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    1. Hi Kim, it's a great dish, isn't it? Thanks for your kind words, and comment.

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