Pasta e fagioli, comfort food during cold winter days, is one of the most traditional, widespread and appreciated Italian recipes. In fact in the Mediterranean diet, beans are commonly used to prepare nutritious and healthy dishes, and for this reason they are known as “the meat of the poor people”, rich in carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, soluble fibers, as well as being low in fat. Like many other Italian recipes, this one started out as a peasant meal made of easily available and inexpensive ingredients such as beans , garlic, onion, carrots, celery, potatoes and tomatoes. Further, it was common to use spicy cured lard, prepared seasonally each autumn during pig-slaughtering season, to add some extra flavor. Because of its popularity, there are many variations all over the country: for example some do not include tomatoes at all; some use vegetable stock and avoid lard (making this particular version a suitable dish for vegetarians); some recipes are more soupy while others are thicker. The type of beans may vary as well, usually either borlotti beans or cannellini beans, fresh or dried. I prefer borlotti beans because of their nutty sweet flavor and creamy texture. These light brown beans with red marks are a variety of kidney beans commonly cultivated in Italy but originally from America. Italians enjoy these types of beans in summer as well, preparing an excellent cold bean salad flavored with fresh sliced onions, ground pepper and tossed with olive oil.
PASTA E FAGIOLI (PASTA WITH BEANS)
Preparation time: 12 hrs. Cooking time: 1 hr Servings:4
300 g (1 ½ cups) dried borlotti beans
1 whole garlic clove + 1 sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
40 g (¼ cup) spicy cured lard or bacon, diced
1 medium size onion, finely sliced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1 ½ l (about 5 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
280 g (10 ounces) ditaloni or small pasta (artisanal pasta)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
You should start the day before you plan to serve the pasta e fagioli.
1.Rinse the beans under running water, then place in a large glass bowl with 1 garlic clove, 1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves. Fill bowl with plenty of water to cover generously (about 5 cm, 2 inches above the level of the beans). Cover with a lid and soak overnight.
1.In a large heavy pot with lid, sauté the lard (or bacon) on medium heat with the sliced garlic, onion, carrots, celery and potatoes in olive oil for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently
2.Remove the excess water (if there is any), discarding the garlic, rosemary and bay leaves as well, then add the beans, the fresh herbs (1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves) and tomato sauce to the pot. Cover with stock, bring to gentle simmer. Cover pot and cook for about 35-40 minutes, until beans are tender
3.Add the pasta, stir and cook for 10 minutes until pasta is just al dente (follow the package cooking direction). Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup in the serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil.
Note: Dried beans versus canned beans. You can reduce preparation time by using canned beans (one pound of dried beans = about 6 cups of cooked beans). I personally prefer dried beans, although it is more time consuming, the results are worth the effort!!! Dried beans come out being tender and flavorful, not at all mushy and dull as can be the case with canned ones. Important tip: Add salt only at the end when the beans are tender, because salt will prevent them from absorbing water, which will, of course, then slow down the cooking process. -Paola