Beans are such a nice, neutral canvas, you can make a big, basic pot of them and then play around with them differently every day.
Pasta Fagioli redux for “Grandparent food” week…of course my version has come a long way since my youth and since I have learned to enjoy this humble dish and yes, even with the addition of cabbage which I could hardly consider way back when and I even approved on the version of cabbage, butter braised is the best. Don’t let the lengthy list run you off as this makes a lot of soup and perfect for the freezer stash for quick dinner nights. Just a reminder that I don’t freeze the soup with the pasta in it but rather cook pasta just before serving time.
I started out with a Mark Bittman recipe, but as usual, I ended up with my own recipe using what I had on hand, therefore, ending up with quite the enhanced version which translates to “make it your own ” so through trial and error you will find your ultimate happy bowl of pasta fagioli. Mark’s recipe below.
- 1 ½ cups dried cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight
- 1 rib celery, leafy top part only
- 1 leek, green part only
- Parsley stems from a small bunch
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic
- 1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, pureed, then strained to remove skin and seeds
- 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, skin and seeds removed
- 1 16-ounce box tubular pasta, like penne
- 3 ribs celery, sliced thin
- 6 tablespoons of grated pecorino cheese, plus additional cheese to serve on the side
- Put the beans in a large pot of water. Wrap celery greens, leek, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns in cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni, and add to the pot. Add salt and cloves of garlic.
- Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until tender, about an hour. Drain beans. Remove garlic and bouquet garni.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large pot, add chopped garlic and half of the beans. Heat for a few seconds, then add the canned and fresh tomatoes. Cook for about 20 minutes. Then, in a food processor, puree the sauce and return to pan.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and add pasta.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil and saute the celery over medium heat for about five minutes, until tender.
- When the pasta is not quite cooked, drain almost completely, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta and liquid to the sauce, as well as the rest of the beans and the celery ribs. Cook for 5 or 10 minutes more, until the pasta, is done. Add the cheese. At the table, top with more grated cheese to taste.
A last-minute trip to gather several things that I will need in the next few weeks and I had not given a thought to dinner once we returned home at 3:30, but guess what? I had some wonderful pasta Fagioli just about jumping out of the freezer begging for a chunk of parmesan or Romano rind to melt into the soup while reheating, but a little special treatment in order, some fine mezzaluna basil, and cheese pasta rather than the usual tubetti pasta ready in less than 25 minutes. Serve with extra grated cheese, red pepper flakes, a great salad, and crusty bread. The link to one of my recipes below at Food 52 which happens to be a fantastic site…
2 bags of dried navy beans, picked over and rinsed
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
2 carrots, chopped in large chunks
1 leftover ham bone or 2 ham hocks
12 cups water 2 cups less if using broth
1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil and oregano (or can use fresh herbs)
1 bay leaf
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 can whole tomatoes and juice, rough chopped
1/2 pound or more of tubetti or other small pasta
1 cheese rind, optional
2 cups beef broth, optional
1 cup chicken broth, optional
* Optional 2 cups Greens of your choice, Swiss chard, kale, or spinach, sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Add to just about finished soup
Rinse beans, soak overnight and drain. To a very large stockpot add about 3 tablespoons olive oil and briefly sauté the celery, garlic, carrot, onion and ham bone or ham hocks. Break up the canned tomatoes and add to pot with all of the juices from the can. Let it all heat up while you add beans, water (optional broths if using), herbs and bay leaf. Season with little red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper to taste. Simmer until beans are tender about 2-3 hours on a medium-low to a low simmer.
Remove bay leaf. Remove bones and pick the meat off to add back into the soup.
Season to your taste. Cook and drain tubetti, return to the cooking pot, add some of the soup broth to the pasta.
At this point, you can take half of the beans and puree, but I like the thinner broth and whole beans
First-night soup is my favorite; everyone else likes the soup thicker or the next day.
*Notes for basic pasta fagioli: Once you have your basic soup ready you can get pretty creative adding in sautéed favorite greens to the simmering soup for several minutes before serving. Tiny meatballs, crispy pancetta, or prosciutto, and sausage are favorite additions for a second soup meal. Keep in mind all additions = more expense. I love freshly grated cheese in my bowl of pasta fagioli. Freeze leftover soup without pasta. Since it was sausage making day, I left some meat on the pork butt bones and added them to the soup as well, nice bits of tender pork in the soup along with the ham bits.
Mark Bittman’s Recipe
Pasta and Bean Soup from Mark Bittman
Makes four to six servings
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 cup chopped prosciutto or other ham. This ingredient is optional. I had five or six strips of bacon in the refrigerator so threw it in.
1 cup hard vegetables such as potatoes, winter squash or turnips. I used potatoes
6 cups chicken, vegetable or beef stock
1 cup canned diced tomato with the juices
1 cup soft vegetables such as green beans, summer squash, zucchini or dark, leafy greens like kale or collards. (I used green beans and some spinach I had on hand).
2 cups cooked beans, such as kidney, white, cannellini or a mixture
1/2 cup to 1 cup small pasta (or large pasta broken into smaller bits). I used one cup of Gemelli pasta.
1/2 cup chopped, fresh parsley leaves (I didn’t have any, so left this out).
Put 3 tablespoons of oil into a large, deep pot over medium heat. When hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook until the onion softens. Add the ham or bacon if you’re using it and cook for another three minutes.
Add the hard vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for a minute or two, then add the stock and the tomato. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. If you have some Parmesan lying around, this is the time to cut the rind into small pieces and throw it into the pot. Cook until the veggies are pretty soft and the tomato is broken up. That takes about 15 minutes. Stir every once in a while.
Add the soft veggies and cooked beans and parsley and simmer the mixture. This is when you add in the pasta. Cook the vegetables until they are all tender – about 15 minutes.
Add in one tablespoon of olive oil and throw in a teaspoon of minced garlic to the pot about five minutes before serving. Grate Parmesan cheese into each bowl.
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