Pasta e Fagioli

Bean Pasta

Soup dish or pasta dish? To non-Italian eyes, a soup, to Italians a pasta dish, and not just any pasta dish – a national obsession. The Italians seem to regard them as vital to life as they know it – ‘La vita fagioli’! Every region of Italy has a major variation; every former city state a slight modification; every village and every home their own version.

Ingredients

  • 500 g ditali (not ditalini, these are too small)
  • 500 g tinned fagioli, cannellini or borlotti beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly
  • good olive oil
  • 1 carrot, 1 celery stick, 1 large onion, all peeled and cut into a fine soffritto
  • 125 g pancetta, diced (optional)
  • ½ large red chilli pepper, seeded and minced (or 4 small dried ones, reconstituted in a little water and chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 big sprig rosemary (reserve a few needles), 2 bay leaves, 1 sprig parsley 1 sprig thyme, tied into a bouquet garni 1 × 500 g packet tomato passata salt and pepper Parmesan, freshly grated

Method

Heat 4 tbsp oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole. Add the soffritto of diced vegetables and pancetta, if using, and sweat for 10 minutes over a medium heat. They may take on a little colour. Add the chilli, garlic and bouquet garni, and sweat for a further 5 minutes. Add the tomato passata, bring to a boil, stir thoroughly, then add 500 ml water and simmer until the vegetables are very tender. Add the beans and simmer for 10 minutes more.

While this is cooking, blanch the pasta: that is, put a 5 litre pan of water on to boil, salt it and boil the ditali for 4 minutes. Drain, refresh by plunging into cold water, then drain thoroughly and tip into a bowl. Lightly dress with olive oil to prevent it sticking together – you may add the reserved rosemary needles to this pasta for an interesting aromatic seasoning.

Remove the vegetable pan from the cooker, and discard the bouquet garni. Purée half the mixture and return to the remainder in the pan. At this point everything is ready, and can be held until you need it.

To serve, mix the pasta and beans together to make the soup. Heat gently until very hot and the pasta is al dente. Be careful as the dish will stick easily, scorch and spoil; keep gently stirring. Serve in soup plates with Parmesan, and some good oil added separately.

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