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An Italian Winter Staple: Pasta e Fagioli

The first few weeks of winter in Rome were quite mild – I spent most of it in my fall jacket, met friends for coffee at outdoor cafes, and had more than a gelato or two despite the season. As nice as this was, I must admit I was in a bit of a culinary limbo; it was late November, yet not quite cold enough to break out my winter recipes.

I appreciated the warmer temperatures, yes, and I was all for a wintertime gelato, but what about my ragù alla Bolognese, my risotto, my polenta?! Would cozy dishes ever be needed to combat freezing temperatures?! Thankfully January has finally produced weather that warrants Ugg boots and the space heater in my office, and I’m finally able to make the cozy and hearty dishes I so enjoy in the winter. Pasta e fagioli, the subject of today’s post, is probably the recipe I make most in this season.

Paste e fagioli (photo ©Francesc Bruzzese)

Paste e fagioli (photo ©Francesc Bruzzese)

Pasta e fagioli – which means pasta and beans – is an Italian soup that, much like polenta (recipe forthcoming!) used to be considered a “peasant” dish, as it is composed of inexpensive ingredients that are still filling and nutritious. Nowadays however it can now be found on menus in Italian restaurants* and was a staple in my house growing up. I remember that there was nothing better than coming out of freezing New England temperatures and having a pot of this soup waiting for us for dinner.

Despite its simple ingredients, it is full of flavor thanks to fresh herbs, plus the tasty addition of pancetta (note that this can be left out for a vegetarian version).

It’s warm, filling, and perfect with freshly grated parmesan cheese on top and a side of bread to get every last bit of broth in the bowl. Note that this dish is also better a day or so after it is made, as the flavors develop even more. Buon appetito!

Pasta e fagioli

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ounces pancetta, chopped
5 cups chicken broth
¾ cup of crushed tomatoes
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup ditalini pasta (dry)
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and pancetta and sauté until the onion is translucent and the pancetta is crispy, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, beans, and rosemary and bay leaf and stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil, then decrease the heat to medium and simmer the soup for 10 minutes. Using an immersion blender or blender, puree 2 cups of the bean mixture in a blender until smooth – be very careful when you do this, as the soup will be hot. Before putting the puree back into the soup, add the ditalini and boil the pasta e fagioli with the lid on until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite, about 9 minutes. Return the puree to the remaining soup in the saucepan and stir well. Remove the bay leaf and rosemary. Season the soup with pepper and salt to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with some Parmesan and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil just before serving. Serves 6.

*If you’re in Rome, try the one they make at Sagra del Vino on Via Marsala.

Pasta e fagioli (photo ©Francesca Bruzzese)

Pasta e fagioli (photo ©Francesca Bruzzese)

About Francesca Bruzzese

Francesca Bruzzese is an avid cook and baker who has been living in Rome, Italy since 2011. A Rhode Island native with Italian roots, you can usually find her in the kitchen making dolci to bring to her colleagues at work, developing new recipes to add to her repertoire, or planning her next dinner party. In addition to contributing recipes and articles to Eating Italy Food Tours, she also has a food blog, Pancakes and Biscotti (www.pancakesandbiscotti.com).