Pasta e fagiole is most closely associated with the Veneto region, but it is found through southern Italy as well. Every Italian cook has his or her own version of this dish. Some people prefer the dish to be more like soup while others like it more like a stew. Pasta e fagiole may be made with canned or dried cannellini beans; we give you directions for using both. You may wish to add some diced ham or pancetta that have been sautéed until crisp; this will give the soup additional flavor but it is a very good dish without it.
1 pound dried or 2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans 1/3 cup olive oil 2 medium onions, chopped 4 garlic cloves, chopped Large pinch red pepper flakes 1-1/2 cups chopped canned Italian tomatoes 6 cups chicken broth Salt and pepper 2 bay leaves One 5-inch spring fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried One small piece Parmesan or pecorino rind (optional) 4 ounces ditalini or other small pasta Olive oil and grated cheese for serving
If you are using dried cannellini beans: Soak the dried beans in 2 quarts of water for 12 to 18 hours. Change the water once or twice during that time. Drain.
In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook for another 4 minutes. Add the cannellini beans (either dried or canned), tomatoes, broth, seasonings, herbs, and cheese rind. (The cheese rind gives the soup some extra flavor, so if you have a piece available, add it now) Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 to 45 minutes. (Thirty minutes is enough time for canned beans. Cook dried beans until tender.) Remove and discard the cheese rind, bay leaves, and rosemary sprig.
Cook the ditalini pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain.
Transfer 2-1/2 cups of the soup to a food processor or blender and puree. Return the pureed soup to the pot and add the cooked ditalini. Heat through. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
Barley and Bean Soup
"Zuppa di Orzo e Fagioli" (Serves 4-6)
1 cup borlotti, cranberry, or red kidney beans 2 ounces pancetta or bacon, finely chopped 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 stalks celery, chopped 2 carrots, chopped 1 onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, chopped 8 cups water 1/2 cup pearl barley Salt and pepper
Rinse the beans and put in a bowl. Cover with water and allow to sit for 4 hours. Drain the beans and add to a saucepan with 8 cups of water. Cook over low heat, uncovered, about 1 hour, or until the beans are tender. Drain and reserve the liquid.
In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the pancetta in the oil until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, onion, and garlic. Sauté about 8 minutes. Puree the beans and the vegetable mixture in a food mill or blender. Return the puree to the saucepan. Add the reserved cooking liquid, barley, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook until barley is tender about 30 minutes. Serve.
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Escarole and Bean Soup
Tuscan Chickpea Minestrone
(Serves 6) Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, coarsely chopped 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced 2 celery ribs, diced 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and coarsely chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced 1 teaspoon dried sage 2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 (15-ounce) can, drained 6 cups vegetable or chicken broth Salt and pepper 4 ounces broken spaghetti or small pasta Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, fennel, garlic and sage. Cook until the vegetables are tneder and slightly golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and broth, season with salt and pepper; bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered for 1 hour, or until the vegetables are very tender.
Cook the spaghetti or pasta in boiling salted water for the time specified on the package; drain. When the soup is ready to be served, stir in the spaghetti and allow it to cook for just a minute or two. If the soup is too thick, stir in a little water.
Escarole and Bean Soup is a nutritious light meal and a delicious, inexpensive comfort food. Less bitter than kale or chard, escarole is high in folate, fiber, and vitamins A and K. Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, chopped 2 celery stalks, chopped 2 carrots, chopped 2 garlic cloves, minced Salt and pepper 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste) 1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed 4 cups vegetable or low-sodium chicken broth 1 head (about 5 cups) chopped escarole Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
Directions: Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the celery and carrots, season with salt and pepper and add the red pepper flakes. Stir in the beans and broth; bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a slow simmer, partially cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Stir in the escarole and cook for about 5 minutes, until the escarole is wilted and tender. Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.