Like so many other Italian recipes, pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) started out life as a meatless peasant dish: cucina povera. It is hearty fare and like many cucina povera dishes, quite delicious.
Hey Have Some Pasta Fazool
My father’s family came from southern Italy, outside Naples. When I was a little kid, I used to hear the phrase pasta fazool, Neopolitan dialect, bandied about the house. For some reason I thought it was an Italian swear word that I didn’t get scolded over if I hurled it at somebody in anger. “Hey, go pasta fazool!” So much for having a clue!
We also used to sing along later with Dean Martin when he crooned:
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore….
When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool, that’s amore… (is that Dean swearing?!)
It wasn’t exactly amore for me, as I only loved the pizza pie and not so much the pasta fazool. Now that I’m grown (really grown), I can appreciate a soup as good as pasta e fagioli. Many of the contemporary recipes you see include a little meat just this one. The cucina these days doesn’t have to be so povera. But this is a tasty dish even if you choose to prepare it meatless.
Start with the workhorse of Italian cuisine, the cannellini bean. You can use borlotti beans, if you can find them. You can cook your own beans but that isn’t simple for our purposes here so we’re going with canned, drained cannellini beans. Easy to find, easy to use. For the pasta, use any short/small pasta you have on hand. I happened to have small shells. You can even take longer pasta such as spaghetti and break it up into pieces. This pasta fazool–it don’t care!
Drain one can of beans and puree the other two cans in a food processor. Then mix the two together and set aside.
Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot and cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Then add your other aromatics (garlic, red pepper, spices) along with the pancetta and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer this mixture, plus the tomato and 1/2 cup of chicken broth, to a food processor and process until smooth.
Transfer the mixture to the soup pot, add the beans, the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, the rest of the stock and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook the soup until the pasta is al dente. Serve right away and pass some olive oil for drizzling. Be sure to have some great bread on hand to lap up the soup from the bottom of the bowl. “When the stars make you drool…” it must be my pasta fazool. That’s real amore!
Pasta e Fagioli
Yield: Serves 6-8
Total Time: 50 minutes
- 3 15-ounce cans cannellini beans
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 ounces pancetta, diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 pinch of red pepper flakes
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 4 ounces small-shaped pastaèè
- Drain one can of the beans and set aside. Put the contents of the other 2 cans in a food processor and puree until smooth. Combine all the beans in a bowl and set aside.
- In a large pot, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil, add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, pancetta, and spices and cook for 3 minutes.
- Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor, add 1/2 cup of broth along with the tomato and process until the mixture is smooth.
- Return the mixture to the pot, add the remaining oil, the bean mixture, the remaining stock and bring to a boil.
- Add the pasta and cook until it's al dente.
- Serve immediately and pass the olive oil for drizzling over individual portions.