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Pasta e Fagioli

You probably know this as "pasta fazool" or something similar (recipe link), but literally translated, and consistent throughout all of its various portmanteau, the dish is "pasta and beans."

The simple origins of this dish come from the rural regions of post-unification "southern" (both geographically and characteristically) Italy, from where most of the emigrants would derive and the cucina povera was how people survived. Beans were plentiful, especially in Abruzzo and Campania, and were added to enrich thin pasta dishes to provide sustenance and protein. Today, an ocean and three generations removed from such necessity, pasta e fagioli is a common winter comfort staple, perfect for a harsh February evening.


My recipe uses Great Northern Beans and Anelli Siciliana pasta, which can be substituted for Ditalini or Orzo if necessary. The key for a proper pasta e fagioli is a thick broth, one in which the spoon can almost stand on its own; it should be closer to a stew than a soup. The ingredients are simple because this is cucina povera, but don't be fooled: the end result is truly satisfying and yields a dish far more complex and tasty than the sum of its parts. I stress the cucina povera roots of this recipe as that is something to be respected; there exists no need to embellish this preparation with unnecessary, luxury replacement ingredients. About a year ago, a Baltimore restaurant offered this for $20/person, and now they find themselves permanently closed. Do not mess with the classics.



YIELD

Roughly 6 generous servings


INGREDIENTS

  • 8 oz (250 g) Great Northern Beans

  • 8 oz (250 g) pasta: Anelli Siciliana, Ditalini, or Orzo

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced

  • 2 stalks celery, diced

  • 1 large carrot, diced

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 32 oz chicken stock

  • 16 oz tomato passata

  • 1/2 cup red wine

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1 ham hock or chunk of: prosciutto fat, guanciale, or whole pancetta

  • 1 sprig rosemary

  • 1 parmigiano reggiano rind (optional, though highly encouraged)

  • bay leaves

  • evoo

  • s + p

RECIPE

1---Soak the beans in water overnight in a non-reactive bowl in the fridge. Then, place the beans and the soaking liquid (you may need to add more water to completely cover the beans) to a saucepan. Add the ham hock or guanciale, prosciutto, or pancetta, the rosemary, two bay leaves, and bring to a low simmer for about one hour.


2---In a large pot over medium high heat, add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and heat until fragrant. Then, add the onion, carrot, celery, and cook until the onions soften and nearly brown (about 5 minutes), stirring frequently. Add the garlic, give the mixture a stir, and then add the tomato paste. Stir-in the tomato paste to cook evenly, and when the soffritto is a brick-red color (after about 2 minutes), pour in the wine and deglaze the pot by scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden or silicone spoon. When the wine has reduced by 2/3rds, pour in the tomato passata, stir, then add the chicken stock and the parmigiano rind if you have one. Place the pot cover slightly ajar, and let the soup simmer for about an hour.


3---Once the soup and the beans have simmered for about an hour, and the beans are soft, remove the pork, rosemary, and bay leaves from the beans, and add - with the liquid - to the soup. Let the soup and beans simmer for about another half hour.


4---Add the pasta directly to the soup and increase the heat to medium high. Stir constantly, and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot as the dried pasta will stick and not cook. As the pasta cooks, the soup will thicken, so keep roughly 2 cups of water handy to add in order to maintain a balanced texture based on your preference.


5---Taste the pasta after about 10 minutes and turn off the heat once the pasta is al dente and ready to serve. Season the soup with salt and pepper, taste for seasoning, and serve with fresh grated parmigiano reggiano.


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