It wasn’t until quite recently that I became enamored of beans. I might have eaten them in the past, but I would never go out of my way to cook anything with them. I suppose I was won over by refried beans served alongside carnitas-a classic Mexican pork and bean combo. Then I discovered cannellini beans. Spend any time in Tuscany and you can’t help but be served these creamy white beans. Dining in Lucca I’ve been know to order a side of beans to go with a grilled steak or roasted pork. And don’t even get me going on ribollita!
All of a sudden I had a craving for pasta e fagioli -otherwise known as pasta fazool to those of us who grew up with Italian grandparents. On my recent visit to the Ferry Building in San Fransisco I made a stop at the Rancho Gordo stand where I purchased a bag of dried cranberry beans and of ayocote blanco (similar to cannellini). I decided to go with the cranberry beans for my soup. Soft and dense with a rich velvety texture, these were the perfect choice.
There are variations to this soup-some use pancetta, others add carrots and celery. This recipe came from the NY Times where they went with pinto beans. Make sure to plan ahead-if using dried beans they’ll need to be soaked overnight.
Pasta e Fagioli
1 cup simmered beans (cannellini or cranberry prepared according to directions)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium or large onion, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional but I love a little heat)
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf, 1 or 2 Parmesan rinds, and a few sprigs of thyme and parsley
6 ounces elbow macaroni or small shells (1 cup) I used a small tubetti rigati
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
Make the simmered beans as directed. Drain and save the cooking liquid.
Heat oil over medium heat in a large, heavy casserole or Dutch oven and add chopped onion. Cook, stirring, until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add rosemary and garlic and stir together for another minute, until garlic is fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, add salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until tomatoes have cooked down and the mixture is very fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add broth from the beans, tomato paste, hot pepper, bouquet garni, and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in beans and heat through. Taste and adjust salt.
10 to 15 minutes before serving, stir in pasta. When it is cooked al dente, taste and adjust seasonings, stir in parsley, and serve, passing Parmesan in a bowl.