I am presently in Michigan at my daughter’s house, and despite it being April, we have had freezing temperatures and enough snow to cover the ground every day over the past two weeks. Cooler weather requires hearty, comforting dishes, and there isn’t another dish that fits into this category better than Pasta e Fagiole so I decided to make this traditional dish for my family this week. This dish is a peasant recipe that is a great, stick to your ribs dish. Pasta e fagioli or pasta fagioli, and simply means “pasta and beans”, referring to the two main ingredients in the dish. This traditional Italian favorite started as a peasant dish due to being composed of very inexpensive ingredients and most often is one dish that would be prepared at home for family, and not guests. Today Pasta e Fagioli can be widely found even in restaurants, although it may be pronounced pasta fazool in the United States.
Pasta fagioli is commonly made using cannellini beans or borlotti beans and some type of small pasta such as elbow macaroni or ditalini. The base is generally olive oil, garlic, minced onion, and spices, along with stewed tomato or tomato paste, and some broth or water, although some variations do not include tomatoes at all, and are made from only broth. Modern restaurant recipes may be vegetarian, or include an Italian meat such as prosciutto or pancetta as I have used in my version. If you want a vegetarian version of this dish, simply skip adding the pancetta, and use vegetable broth in place of chicken broth. I add onions and celery to my recipe, although I keep them chopped small so that the beans and pasta remain the stars of this dish.
This recipe also varies greatly based on the region or town in which it is prepared, as well as depending on available ingredients. The consistency of the dish can vary, as some renditions fall clearly in the soup category, usually because the tomato was left out, while others are much thicker and would be considered more of a pasta dish. There is always a debate whether this dish should be included in the soup or pasta category, so I am including it in both. When making this “stick to your ribs” dish, you have the option to take a third of the dish and puree it, and then return it to the pot with the rest of the mixture which creates an even thicker dish. I took a vote and my family didn’t want me to include this step so I just left the mixture as is, and it was plenty thick enough after cooking the pasta right in the pot with the beans. Serve this dish with lots of crusty Italian bread and a nice big mixed salad for a complete meal.
Deborah Mele (Revised 2018)
Pasta e Fagiole
A traditional Italian dish made of pasta and beans that was born out of peasant cooking.
- 3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
- 2 Large Garlic Cloves, Minced
- 1 Large Carrot, Finely Chopped
- 2 Celery Stalks, Finely Chopped
- 1 Small Onion, Finely Chopped
- 1/3 Cup Finely Chopped Pancetta or Bacon (Optional)
- 10 Peeled, Seeded and Chopped Ripe Roma Tomatoes (or About 1 (28 Ounce) Can Chopped Tomatoes)
- 1 Quart Chicken Broth
- 2 Cups Water
- 2 (14 Ounce) Tins Cannellini Beans (or Equivalent, Prepared From Dried)
- 2 Cups Small Pasta (Tubettini or Ditalini)
- 1/3 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley
- Salt & Pepper
- Dash Of Red Pepper Flakes
- Good Quality Olive Oil
- Shaved Parmesan or Pecorino Romano Cheese
- Fresh Chopped Parsley
- Heat the oil in a large heavy pot, then cook the onion, carrot, pancetta, and celery until soft.
- Add the garlic and cook another minute.
- Pour in the broth, beans and chopped tomatoes, water, and cook for 15 minutes.
- Remove a few scoops of the bean mixture and puree or mash, then return to the pot. (Optional)
- Add the pasta, chopped parsley and seasonings.
- Cook until the pasta is cooked al dente.
- Serve in bowls topped with a drizzle of olive oil, the shaved cheese and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.