By Jessica – May 23rd, 2009
I’ve already sung the praises of simple bean soup on Principia Gastronomica, but with a springtime chill still lingering in the air here, I thought it might be nice to jot down another warming, beantastic lunchtime favorite of mine.
Pasta fagioli is a classic example of Italian “peasant” cooking. It involves taking a few simple ingredients—in this case, beans and pasta—and transforming them into something that nourishes both body and soul. My fast version of pasta fagioli is a soupy, tomato-less dish that I throw together from whatever ingredients I happen to have on hand. It’s a good way to use up odds and ends as well: those few handfuls of macaroni lingering in the cupboard, that last little celery stalk in the fridge. You can vary this soup endlessly, so the recipe below is just a rough outline. If you use what you’ve got and season it to taste, you really can’t go wrong.
For one hearty bowl of soup, you’ll need:
- olive oil
- a handful of finely chopped onion
- a handful of finely chopped carrot and/or celery
- a small bay leaf
- a small chopped clove of garlic
- some herbs, fresh or dried (sage, thyme, rosemary and oregano are all good)
- a small tin of beans (150g/5oz, ideally borlotti or cannellini)
- about 4 cups of water or stock
- a handful of small dried pasta (macaroni, for example)
- salt and pepper
Heat a splash of olive oil in a pot and sauté the onion, carrot and celery with the bay leaf until the vegetables are relatively soft (10 minutes should do it). Add the chopped garlic and sauté for another minute, then toss in the herbs and beans. Pour in the water or stock and bring the soup to a boil.
Ideally, you should let it simmer like this for a bit before adding the pasta, but if you’re pressed for time or just really, really hungry, you can add the pasta with a good pinch of salt as soon as the water boils. Cook the soup until the pasta is tender, then season with salt and pepper. If you like, you can use a big spoon to mash some of the beans against the side of the pot; the smashed beans together with the starch from the pasta will thicken the soup pleasantly. Serve with a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and, if you’re feeling decadent, a smattering of grated parmesan cheese.
Note: Soft beans make all the difference here, so look for canned or jarred beans which haven’t been treated with calcium chloride, a firming agent that tends to make beans unpleasantly hard and grainy. I use Valfrutta steam-cooked beans, which are very soft indeed and come in convenient serving-size cans. Otherwise, organic tinned beans generally don’t have calcium chloride in them.