This is a great dish to make on a cold winter’s night. Simple and hearty, this true peasant dish will definitely warm you up. Pasta e fagioli translates to beans and pasta; it is often pronounced “pasta fazool” in the United States after the pronunciation of the word beans in the Neapolitan language.
The recipe for this soup varies based on the region or town in which it is prepared. The consistency of the dish can also vary, with some versions being soupy while others are much thicker. Some variations do not include tomatoes at all but are made from a broth, and some use a pancetta in the base of the sauce.
The recipe I had was pretty basic, so after looking through a few of my cookbooks I decided to go with my recipe but add a few ingredients. As always, my measurements are estimated and you may need to adjust them.
Most recipes use dried beans, which need to be soaked as directed. If time is a factor, canned beans can be used. I use pancetta, but some recipes use bacon. Both can be optional, although I feel that the pancetta gives the pasta e fagioli that extra flavor. If you want a lighter soup, use half of the tomatoes to start with and add the rest if needed. I also take a rind of the Parmesan cheese and add it to the mixture while cooking, a tip I learned years ago from my favorite Italian deli in the Bronx.
½ lb pancetta
1 large onion
1 rib celery
1 glove garlic, optional
1 14 oz. can cannelloni beans, or dried beans
1 14 oz can garbanzo beans, or dried beans
8 oz of vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups of water
1 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Bay leaf
2 Sprigs of rosemary
2 Sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup basil, chopped
¼ cup parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste
Rind of Parmesan cheese
1 lb ditalini pasta
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 loaf of crusty bread
Serves 4 to 6
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. In a food processor, chop the pancetta, add it to the olive oil, and brown until golden. Add the coarse black pepper at this time. Chop the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery and add to the pancetta. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the vegetable or chicken stock and 2 cups of water. Crush the tomatoes by hand and add to mixture, then bring to a slow boil. Drain and rinse the beans and add to the pot.
Wrap the thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf in a piece of cheese cloth. Secure with kitchen twine and add to the mixture along with the chopped parsley and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rind of the parmesan cheese and let the mixture simmer.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente and drain the pasta, reserving some of the liquid. Remove the sachet of herbs and rind of cheese from the soup. Add the pasta and some of the reserved cooking liquid to reach the desired consistency. Check the seasoning; I usually add extra parsley and basil prior to serving. Let mixture simmer for a few minute to give the flavors a chance to blend.
Ladle into soup dishes and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Serve with a warm crusty loaf of Italian bread and, of course, your favorite salad.