Pasta e Fagioli
There’s a whole slew of so-called regional dishes, the Old World versions of which are my favorites. They’re widely used recipes, usually based on a common climate, national culture, etc., but have many variations from spot to spot. This variation within a culture has given rise to some iconic and beloved foods and drinks – Champagne, Hatch green chilis, Ashe County pimentos, North Carolina barbecue – are all variations on a product that can only happen where they happen. And these are all better than the other options (sorry…).
Pasta e fagioli (it just means “pasta and beans”) doesn’t have many requirements. It’s really nothing more than a pasta and bean soup, with some variations using pancetta to flavor the broth, or different beans, or having a little more spice, or mashing the beans to be more stew-like or adding great olive oil to make a slicker and thinner broth.
Momma remembers asking people at every market in Italy what they put in theirs, and picking up some of these tricks I learned from her. Above all, beans, pasta, and seasonal additions. But this is the version I grew up with, watching it made in Creston, with a couple tweaks I’ve made myself (call it the Franklin variation…):
1 pound beans (Northern beans, or another white type bean, shellies or dried is best)
1/2 pound pasta (cut styles are better than spaghettis here, I like farfalle)
1 bunch chopped cutting celery (if you use ours) or 2 stalks from the store
2 sliced carrots
1/2 sliced onion
A bunch of parsley
3 cloves diced garlic
1 diced hot pepper
3 cups chopped tomato
Some water or broth
Available seasonal herbs and greens (this time of year, sage, rosemary, Swiss chard especially)
First, cook your beans. My favorite is to do dried beans in a pressure cooker and drain the liquid, but hold onto it for a later step. While they’re hot, also take a big handful of the beans and mash them and set aside.
Then, in a large pot on medium-low heat, add a couple glugs of olive oil, heat until it shimmers, and add the garlic and onion. As you add the last slice of onion, stick a whole clove into it (clove as in the spice, not a garlic clove). Stir them occasionally until they are translucent but not soft.
At this point, add the celery stalks (hold onto the greens until later), carrots, hot pepper, and tomato. Let it all cook for a moment and warm up. Once the aromatics of everything are released and it smells awesome, add enough water, broth or stock to cover everything and 2-3 inches higher (I like to add the bean water here, and then water or bone broth to finish), and let it come to a boil.
Once it boils, drop in the pasta and let it cook until al dente. Then, add the cooked beans and the handful of smashed beans, give it all a good stir, add your herbs and celery/chard/other greens and let it simmer until it’s to your liking.
Top with a small mountain of parmesan, some olive oil if you like, salt and pepper, and have with some ciabatta or other bread full of holes.
The best thing about this dish is that it can teach you how ingredients act. If you like the tomatoes cooked down almost to a sauce (I like them with some chunks left), maybe roast them before putting them in, or let the step where they’re added last longer to soften them further. Like the crisp rawness of onion in a soup? Add some of the onion near the end, and if your tomatoes are acidic enough you’ll see how a red onion maintains more of its anthocyanins and color while cooking if it’s acidic. Maybe you like a tablespoon of honey, or a capful of apple cider vinegar. I like to go with whatever sugar/acidity balance the particular tomato mix brings, but use the opportunity to experiment with balancing sweet and acidity.
Enjoy! I always have.
Thanks for reading!