Pasta e Fagioli
Pasta e fagioli — literally “pasta and beans” — is a heartwarming Italian soup, perfect for a chilly night. There are countless recipes but this one, given to me by my dear friend Tracy Santoro and adapted from Chef Joe Cicala’s recipe in the The Washington Post, is the best I’ve tried. The base of the soup is made with pancetta, vegetables and white wine, which add tremendous depth of flavor, and the broth is thickened slightly with puréed beans, which makes it rich and satisfying. Serve it with Rosemary Focaccia and a Big Italian Salad — I promise, it will warm you up and make you happy!
Before we get started, a few words about the ingredients. Pancetta is simply Italian bacon. Instead of being smoked like American bacon, it is cured with salt and spices and then dried. You can find it in the deli at most supermarkets or precut and packaged in the refrigerated gourmet foods aisle, which is a great time saver. For the wine, be sure to use something inexpensive but still good enough to drink (no supermarket cooking wine!). Since the recipe only calls for 1/2 cup, I like to use one of those mini bottles sold in packs of four — they are great for keeping on hand for cooking. For the lentils, I prefer French green lentils (or lentilles du Puy) because they hold their shape when cooked (you can always find them at Whole Foods) but if you can’t get them, any brown or green lentils are fine.
Begin by heating the olive oil in a large pot. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat begins to render, about 5 minutes.
Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook until the onions become translucent.
Add the white wine and cook until almost evaporated.
Add the broth, salt, pepper, beans lentils, tomatoes, bay leaves and rosemary.
Bring to a boil.
Then reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 20-30 minutes, depending on the type of lentils you used.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer about one cup of the beans and a little broth to a blender.
Purée until smooth and set aside.
Meanwhile, add the dried pasta to the simmering broth.
Cook until the pasta is tender, then add the reserved bean purée back to the pot. The broth will be slightly thickened from both the pasta starch and the bean purée.
If the soup seems too thick, thin it with a bit of water. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle with a touch of olive oil and sprinkle with more cheese, if desired. Enjoy!
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 medium carrots, finely diced
- 2 medium ribs celery, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 6 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 (14.5 ounce) cans cannellini beans or chickpeas (or combination), rinsed and drained
- 1/4 cup dried lentils, rinsed (preferably French green lentils, but any green or brown lentils are fine)
- 1 cup diced or chopped canned tomatoes, with their juices
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
- 3/4 cup dried pasta, such as elbow macaroni or ditalini (whole wheat is fine)
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat begins to render, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot and celery and increase the heat to medium; 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 stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
- Add the wine and cook until it has nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, salt, pepper, beans, lentils, diced tomatoes, bay leaves and rosemary. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are just tender, 15-30 minutes, depending on the type of lentils you used.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer 1 cup of the bean mixture and a little liquid to a blender. Remove the center knob so steam can escape. Hold a paper towel or kitchen towel over the opening to prevent splatters. Purée until smooth and set aside.
- Add the dried pasta to the pot and stir to incorporate. 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. Fish out and discard the bay leaves.
- Stir the reserved puréed bean mixture into the soup. (If you're having a hard time getting the mixture out of the blender, remove as much as you can with a rubber spatula, then add some of the hot soup broth to it and swirl around to loosen it up; it should come right out.) Cook briefly, until the soup is heated through.
- Remove the soup from heat and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. If the soup seems too thick, gradually add 1-2 cups of water or more chicken broth and thin to desired consistency (note: the longer it sits on the stove, the thicker it will get). 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, if desired.
- Note: This soup is best served immediately; as it sits, the pasta and beans soak up the broth. If the soup gets too thick, you can thin it with a bit of broth or water.
- Per serving (4 servings)
- Serving size: About 2 cups
- Calories: 691
- Fat: 25g
- Saturated fat: 8g
- Carbohydrates: 81g
- Sugar: 7g
- Fiber: 17g
- Protein: 36g
- Sodium: 1214mg
- Cholesterol: 26mg
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