pasta e fagioli – the perfect covid – 19 dish

Pasta E Fagioli means ‘pasta and beans’ in Italian. It’s poor man’s food made from simple ingredients. The origin of pasta e fagioli can be traced to the poor kitchen’s of Italy. Italian housewives trying to make a meal from meager pantry items. With the right proportion of ingredients and loving technique, a wonderfully hearty and comforting meal will happen.

I know how those Italian housewives felt when they were looking at their bare shelves. During this Covid – 19 social isolation, I’ve committed myself to using everything in my fridge and pantry before I go for more groceries. This morning when I opened the cupboard two cans of beans, a quarter box of elbow pasta and a can of tomatoes stared back at me.

I don’t know about you but I am getting sick to death of my own cooking. I know that sounds off given what I do for a living, but truth told I love to dine out. I pick up breakfast sandwiches a couple of times a week, we go out for breakfast every Saturday, Liz makes lunch several times a week, we eat dinner at IbN a few times a week, elsewhere once or twice and we have dinner out on Sundays with close friends. I literally only cook at home one or two times a week. After eight weeks of three meals a day, I needed to cook something that takes only one pot, minimal prep and will still satisfy my giant need for comfort food. I’ve long given up on how tight my jeans are fitting.

Pasta e Fagioli is one of those dishes that improves with age. Make it the day before, let the flavours marry then if it’s a bit too thick just add a little chicken stock to thin it out. Make a batch of biscuits or a loaf of beer bread and you will have a bunch of happy diners.

I went a little rogue on the classic pasta e fagioli by adding sausage meat. The vegetarian option is the true dish.

PASTA E FAGIOLI

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage, removed from casing
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • medium carrots, diced
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups good quality commercial or homemade chicken stock  
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 [540 ml or 19 ounce] can chickpeas, rinsed well and drained
  • 1 [540 ml or 19 ounce] can cannellini beans or white kidney beans, rinsed well and drained
  • 1 [ 796 ml or 28 ounce] can imported Italian tomatoes, with their juices, hand crushed
  • bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  • 3/4 cup dried pasta, such as elbow macaroni or ditalini 
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving

THE STEPS:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the sausage meat, break it apart with a wooden spoon and cook until browned. Then add the onion, carrot and red bell peppers and and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn.
  2. Add the broth, salt, pepper, beans, crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, fennel seeds, dried chili flakes and thyme. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes.
  3. Use a slotted spoon to transfer 1 cup of the bean mixture and a little liquid to a food processor or blender. Purée until smooth and set aside.
  4. Stir the dried pasta into the soup pot. Turn the heat up to a gentle boil and cook until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite; anywhere from 8-12 minutes depending on the type of pasta you used. The soup will thicken a bit by the time the pasta is cooked. Remove the bay leaves and discard.
  5. Stir the reserved puréed bean mixture into the soup and heat through.
  6. Remove the soup from heat and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. If the soup seems too thick, add more chicken broth and thin to desired consistency (note: the longer it sits on the stove, the thicker it will get).
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle each portion with a touch of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with more cheese.

THE LOVE: The classic version of this soup does not have sausage. If you would like a vegetarian meal tonight just omit the sausage meat. Serve your soup immediately. The longer it sits, the thicker it gets! You can thin it with a bit of broth at any time. If you happen to have a rind from a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, throw it in when you add the beans. The flavour is amazing!

Stay safe and keep cooking.