Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pasta e Fagioli for Meatless Monday Dinner

Some foods are magical. They evoke happy memories of people, places and times and can be very powerful. Most often, they are memories of childhood and family. I grew up the product of an Italian Father and a Mother who was mostly English and German. As in most households at the time, Mom did most of the cooking but there were those special occasions when my Dad would take over the kitchen. As I'm sure many of you know, every Italian family has a spaghetti sauce (gravy, if you must) that is from a recipe that verges on being sacred. We did -- it came from Calabria with my grandparents and was spoken of in hushed and reverent tones. In our home, my Dad made the sauce, but that's not what I'm writing about today. There was one other very important meal he prepared and it's the one that, even more so than the sauce, evokes those strong, deja vu like feelings. I'm talking about pasta e fagioli, or in English, pasta and beans.

When Cynthia first started making pasta e fagioli for us, she followed my family recipe religiously. Over time, as is her wont, she tweaked a little here, a little there and (forgive me for this oh ancient ancestral spirits) made it better. One important component that did remain the same in both the original and Cyn's improved version was the addition of a good sized hunk of salt pork to the soup as it simmered. The richness and depth of flavor that it contributed was noticeable and delicious.

So when I asked if we could have pasta e fagioli for Meatless Monday last week, she looked at me like I had lost my mind. "What about the salt pork?" she said. "Just leave it out" was my ill-considered answer. After she stopped laughing, I saw the wheels start to turn and I knew I was going to get a perfectly delicious, meatless, version of pasta e fagioli for Monday dinner. Here's how it came together.

This is not a dish that is put together quickly, so if you need something now, this isn't it.

Ingredients (the beans)
1 lb dried white beans - cannelini preferred (you can use canned but the texture will be different)
2 bay leaves
1 parmigiano rind
2 cloves of garlic
1 carrot whole
1 stalk celery, whole
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 cup tomatoes (pureed, chopped fresh, even salsa will do)
6 cups water

Ingredients (the soup)
2 carrots
1 stalk celery
2 cloves garlic peeled
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 parmigiano rinds
2 quarts water
1 tbsp tomato paste

Preparation (the beans)
  • If using dry, wash and pick over the beans to remove impurities.
  • Add beans, water, bay leaves, garlic, rosemary, carrot, celery and parmigiano rind to a slow cooker/crock pot.
  • Cook on high for one hour then add tomatoes and reduce heat to low.
  • Cook beans until tender (typically 8 hours). We do ours overnight.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Reserve.

Preparation (the soup)
  • Place carrots, garlic, celery and onion in a food processor and let it go for about a minute. You're looking for a paste or a battato
  • In a large stockpot on medium heat, cover the bottom with a couple of tablespoons of oil.  Don't be chintzy, you can always skim some of it off later but you're going to need the fat to saute the paste until the water evaporates and the paste turns a nice golden brown.  Hit the paste with some salt early in the process to help draw out the moisture and concentrate the flavors, and for goodness sake, baby this saute by stirring very often, or it will burn and you'll be sad.  About half way through, 10 minutes in, add a tablespoon of tomato paste and continue until golden.  You can't rush this step - let the browning occur, it's where a lot of the flavor of this soup comes from.  

  • Once it's golden brown, add the 2 quarts of water and the other two parm rinds.
  • Bring it to a simmer and then add 4-6 ounces of pasta. One of the smaller shapes like ditalini or elbows works well.
  • Slowly add the beans to the pot and cook until the pasta is done keeping it at a simmer to stop the pasta from sticking.
  • Remove the whole carrots, celery, bay leaves and whatever is left of the rinds.
  • Serve piping hot with grated parmigiano on top.

Note: This soup stores and reheats wonderfully with the addition of a very small amount of water to the leftover portion.

Did I miss the salt pork? I won't lie, I did, a little. But that may be because the taste of this soup is so hard wired into my senses that I noticed the difference. Was it still good? Absolutely!

There are literally hundreds of pasta e fagioli recipes floating around out there. I've had quite a few other versions over the years but this one remains the best. If you've never made it using the rinds and the battuto method, try it once this way. You'll probably never make it any other way again.

Ciao for now!

Visit my blogger friends at Delicieux_fr and Eat Your Veg!



  1. No,no, a thousand times no salsa!

  2. I found your site on another blog. Just wanted to let you know that I subscribed to your feed and can't wait to see what your next post will be!

    1. Very nice of you to say so. Thanks, and happy reading!

  3. I have to admit, I think I would have missed the salt pork a bit too, but I this still sounds very good. And with all those flavors, who needs pork? (Well, still might want it!) =) Thanks so much for sharing and as always, enjoy reading about your creations...

  4. There is no question the salt pork adds another layer of depth of flavor but it is still pretty fantastic without. I credit the parm rinds...

  5. Hello my friend! I wish to say that this article is amazing, nice written and include almost all important infos. I would like to see more posts like this .

  6. A lovely warming soup Al, and so lovely that it's a recipe dear to your heart and ancestors. I'm betting it's totally delish, especially with all those parmesan rinds. I add a rind to my bolognese sauce if I have one, and the subtle rich cheesy flavour is divine. Thanks so much for linking up to to the Four Seasons Food challenge :)


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