Pasta E Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup-Stew)

Preparation info

  • Makes

    6

    Main-Course Servings
    • Difficulty

      Easy

Appears in

Get in There and Cook: A Master Class for the Starter Chef

Get in There and Cook

By Richard Sax

Published 1997

  • About

A personal version of the soul-satisfying Italian peasant dish, this has become a favorite supper at my house. The pasta and beans, when combined, form a complete protein that is also low in fat—no meat. The ingredient list makes this recipe look complicated; it isn’t.

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil, plus more for serving, if desired
  • 2 red or yellow onions, halved and thickly sliced
  • 2 small carrots, trimmed, peeled, and sliced ½ inch thick
  • ½ red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded (Bell Pepper Basics), and cut into thin strips about 1 inch long
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • cup shredded fresh basil leaves or ½ teaspoon dried
  • Pinch each of dried oregano and dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 or 4 ounces smoked ham, cut into ¼-inch dice (optional)
  • 1 cup drained canned whole tomatoes
  • 7 cups chicken broth, or cups each of chicken broth and water
  • 4 cups cooked white beans (Dried Bean Basics), or 2 cans (19 ounces each) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • cups (5 ounces) dried rotelle (wheel) pasta (or use shells, rigatoni, penne, or other short pasta)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 scallions (white and green portions), trimmed and thinly sliced on a sharp diagonal
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

    Method

    1. Place a nonreactive deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and heat for a few moments. Add the onions, carrots, and bell pepper; sauté, tossing occasionally, until softened slightly, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, 3 tablespoons of the fresh basil (or ½ teaspoon dried), oregano, pepper flakes, bay leaf, and ham; cook, tossing, until the vegetables are softened, about 2 minutes longer.
    2. Add the tomatoes and cook, crushing the tomatoes against the bottom of the pot with the side of a wooden spoon, until they are reduced to the consistency of a thick tomato sauce, about 6 minutes. Add the chicken broth and beans and bring to a boil. As the mixture comes to a boil, use the wooden spoon to mash about one-quarter of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the soup slightly (the broth should be quite thin at this point; it will thicken more later). With a skimmer or a large metal spoon, skim off any froth from the surface as necessary. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. (You can prepare the soup in advance to this point. Cool, and then refrigerate for a day or two.)
    3. Ten to 15 minutes before serving, return the soup to a boil. With a skimmer or large metal spoon, spoon off all possible fat and foam from the surface. Add the pasta and stir immediately. Boil gently, uncovered, until the pasta is nearly al dente, firm but tender, 6 or 7 minutes.
    4. If you have time, turn off the heat, cover the soup, and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
    5. Return the soup to a simmer, gently stirring often from the bottom of the pan. Degrease again, if needed. Thin with a little water if the soup is too solid. Add a few generous grinds of pepper to taste, salt, if needed, and the remaining fresh basil. Remove the bay leaf.
    6. Serve immediately, sprinkling each serving with scallion greens and drizzling with a little more olive oil, if you like. Pass freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a pepper mill at the table.