A friend approached Joe and said, “Joe, I just tried this great soup. It is called pasta ee fa-gee-oli. You have to try it.”
Joe responds laughing, “That’s not how you say it. It is pronounced pasta fazool.”
“No Joe. It’s pasta ee fa-gee-ol-ee.” It is pasta and bean soup and it is delicious.”
“I’ve eaten pasta fazool my whole life. It is Dad’s favorite soup and he loves to make it. In our house, we call it, pasta fazool.”
How do you say, “Pasta e Fagioli”?
Actually, according to online reference, you do not pronounce the “e” and fagioli has two syllables, fa-joli. The pronunciation is very lyrical and dances off the tongue with the accent on the “joli”. Saying “fagioli” is fun and so is saying “fazool”. The rhythm of the Italian word is upbeat and more captivating than the English translation, “beans”. Yet no matter how you say it, pasta e fagioli is delicious and needs to be in your soup repertoire. It is an Italian soup made with pantry staples of beans and pasta created out of necessity from humble origins. At its core, the soup is made with only four ingredients, beans, pasta, onion, and garlic. 5 ingredients if you count the water. 6 if you count the parmesan cheese. In my household, we always count the parmesan cheese.
Pasta e Fagioli
From my research, there are as many versions of pasta e fagioli as there are neighborhoods in Italy. Traditionally, pasta e fagioli has a stew-like consistency, somewhere in the middle of thick and thin. Too thick and it tastes gloppy, too thin and it is less filling. If Goldilocks were Italian, the three bears would leave pasta fagioli instead of porridge for Goldilocks to sample. She would taste each bowl of pasta fagioli to find the one that was “just right”, with the proper consistency and texture. Whether pasta e fagioli is thick like a stew or not, it is a magical soup with comforting flavor from the beans, pasta, aromatics, and parmesan cheese. Like Mac and Cheese, pasta e fagioli is pure comfort food and not only fuels the body but soothes the soul.
Italian heritage of Pasta e Fagioli.
Switching It Up
Traditional pasta fagioli recipe does not use stock because the soup’s foundation is the same water that cooks the beans and pasta along with aromatics and leftover rinds of parmesan cheese. Cooking everything in one pot helps develop the stew-like consistency of the soup. Plus, using rinds from parmesan cheese adds a nutty and cheese flavor to the water that is really lovely. It is a great technique to use when you need to bump of the flavor of a mild tasting broth or soup.
For my version, I made the soup with a thinner consistency, but it is loaded with lots of pasta, beans, and tomatoes. I chose not to cook the pasta and beans together but cooked them separately. Often, pasta gets gummy in soups because they become saturated and overcooked. I find this very unappetizing and do my best to avoid gummy pasta whenever possible.
Additionally, I made this soup with fresh cranberry beans and the cooking liquid turns dull and grey. I worried that the bean cooking liquid would make the soup unappealing. So, erring on the side of caution, I cooked the beans separately as well. By cooking the pasta and beans separately this gave me more control over the lifespan of the cooked pasta, the consistency of the soup, as well as the color and overall appearance.
Instead of using plain water, I combined vegetable broth, pasta water and the bean cooking liquid to make up the soups’ stock. This mixture keeps the traditional elements but lightens it up both in flavor and viscosity. I chose vegetable stock over chicken stock because chicken stock makes everything made with it taste like chicken soup.
Cranberry beans are stunning to look at with its’ ivory color and magenta splatter. Unfortunately, the beans lose their fun purple appeal as they cook, creating beans with an ivory-grey tone and ugly grey-beige liquid. The vibrant colorful appearance is gone. Have no fear, despite the dull cooked appearance, cranberry beans have a lovely mild and herbal flavor from the aromatics in the cooking liquid. When you cook fresh beans, do not salt the water. Instead add onions, garlic, and herbs to season the liquid. The cranberry beans will absorb all the aromatics and taste wonderful.
If you can find cranberry beans, buy them. This time of year, fresh cranberry beans are available at Farmer’s markets or specialty grocery stores. A pound and a half of cranberry beans in their shell will give you enough beans for this soup. The bonus of using fresh beans over dried beans is they do not take as long to cook, and there is no need for the overnight soaking.
To save time, use canned cannellini beans, reserving their liquid for the stock and rinsing them. Look for the low salt, or no salt variety as canned foods are often high in salt.
More soup recipes
Not only does pasta fazool have the power to nourish the body for a day of hard work, but it also has the power to heal emotionally. Eating soup is grounding, comforting and uplifting on any given day. I am not sure why all I know is how I feel after eating a bowl of soup. While eating soup there is a sense of timelessness and that might be the reason for the feeling of calm and comfort.
Making soup gives me the same satisfaction and reassurance. I find it to be a meditative process with a delicious outcome. What I love about making soup is I can use up odd and end pieces of food like vegetables, chicken or fish and give them new life. Pasta fagioli is the perfect foundation for such an activity. You won’t get the traditional soup, but the premise is the same. Use what you have in the pantry or the refrigerator, even if it is just pasta and beans, and transform those leftovers into a substantial meal.
I dedicate this post in loving memory to my father-in-law, Phil Palumbo. There is no special occasion for this dedication other than I cannot say pasta fazool or enjoy eating this soup without thinking of him and feeling his love.
Pasta e Fagioli
Some people say "Cheese" when having their pictures taken, but in our family, we say, "Pasta Fazool." It is a family tradition started from Joe's dad because it is such a fun word to say. No matter how you say it, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta Fazool, or Pasta and Beans is a hearty heartwarming soup made from pantry ingredients and just hits the spot when every you need a pick-me-up.
It may look like a lot of ingredients in this recipe for such a basic soup, but each ingredient is consistent with the Italian tradition of using simple pantry ingredients and creating something magical. You can make this as easy as you wish by using store-bought stock and canned beans, or follow my lead and make everything from scratch. Yet, I hope one day, when you are stuck inside from bad weather, you take the time and make this soup from scratch. There is nothing like a homemade soup and its heartwarming lift you get from spending the day creating something delicious to eat for your family.
Cooked pasta absorbs a lot of the liquid in the soup. As a result, some people add warm pasta to individual bowls of the soup instead of the pot. This prevents the pasta from getting gummy from overcooking. But I believe the pasta adds flavor and a nice consistency to the soup, so I do not do that. To prevent the pasta from overcooking, make sure you cook it al dente because the pasta will continue to cook in the warm soup. Also, when I heat up leftovers of pasta fagioli, I add more vegetable stock to loosen it up.
- 2 cups (500 ml) dried cannellini beans or great northern soaked overnight Or, fresh cranberry beans
- 1 onion cut in quarters
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and smashed
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs rosemary or one sprig sage
- 1 rind parmesan
Pasta e Fagioli
- 6 slices bacon cooked and cut into ½ inch pieces optional -see notes for substitutes
- 4 TB (1/4 cup / 60 ml) extra virgin olive oil or you can use a combination of rendered bacon fat and olive oil
- 2 celery stalks diced
- 1 onion, cut in small dice
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 bay leaves
- Bouquet garni of 3 parsley sprigs, 1 sprig sage, 2 sprigs rosemary
- Beans from the bean recipe, drained from their liquid. Or 1-14.5 oz can cannellini beans, great northern beans, or kidney beans
- 2 Parmesan rinds, plus grated or shaved for serving
- 4 cups (1 liter) vegetable stock
- 2 cups (500 ml) water, or a combination of pasta water and the bean's cooking liquid
- 1 - 14.5 oz (425 g) can diced tomatoes with liquid
- 4 - 6 oz (125 -175 g) dried pasta such as ditalini, small elbows, or small tube-shaped pasta
- Parmesan Reggiano cheese grated or shaved
If you are using fresh cranberry beans you won’t need to soak them overnight as they have not been dried out.
If you are using dried beans and forgot to soak them overnight, place the beans in a large pot filled with water. Bring the pot of water to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and soak for one hour. Drain the water and proceed as directed for cooking the cranberry beans.
If you are using canned beans, drain and reserve the bean liquid. Rinse the beans. Begin the recipe at step 1 under Pasta e Fagioli.
Place the fresh cranberry beans or soaked beans in a large pot and add the quartered onion, 3 cloves of garlic smashed, 3 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of rosemary. Bring to a boil then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, but not breaking apart, about 35 minutes for fresh cranberry beans, or 1 hour or longer for the dried beans. Check the beans frequently so you do not overcook them.
Remove the aromatics, onion, garlic, herbs, pour the beans into the bowl of a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl to catch the liquids. Drain the beans and reserve the bean water. Set aside.
Pasta e Fagioli
In a 5 qt Dutch oven or large stock pot, add the olive oil, (or a combination of olive oil and rendered bacon fat to equal 4 TBS (1/4 cup / 60 ml)), set over medium heat. Heat up the oil to melt the bacon fat if using. Add the onions and celery and a Kosher salt. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and transparent, being careful not to brown the vegetables, about 5-8 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and minced garlic and sauté until for about 1 minute.
Once the vegetables are soft, add the vegetable stock, and 2 cups water (or a combination of pasta water, bean cooking liquid, and water). Add the bay leaves, bouquet garni, parmesan rinds, and chopped tomatoes with their liquid. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Continue to simmer the stock and add the cooked beans and crispy bacon pieces. Simmer for ten to twenty minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add the cooked noodles and cook until they are warmed through.
Serve hot with thin slices, or finely grated Parmesan Reggiano.
Pasta e fagioli is best eaten the day it is made but it can be reheated on the stove or in a microwave. You may want to add some extra stock when heating up leftover soup, as the beans and pasta will absorb the liquid in the soup.
Joe's dad often added scraps of meat like ham to the soup to make it more substantial or cook the beans with a ham bone. According to Joe, Dad often used the soup to use up odds and ends of food that was leftover in the refrigerator or the pantry.
I like bacon in this soup as it adds a lovely smokey flavor. Pieces of fried prosciutto are a nice addition as well, but it does not have the smoky flavor of bacon.
If you do not eat pork, a traditional substitute is anchovy filets. Add 4-6 fillets to the sautéed onion and celery when you add the red pepper flakes. You want to cook them down so they melt into the oil before you add any liquids.
For a plant based version, omit the bacon, anchovies, and parmesan cheese rind. You will need additional seasoning to add more body and flavor to the pasta fagioli, which can come from additional garlic and herbs. Or maybe a small amount of miso though not too much to change the soup's Italian flavorings. I have yet to try nutritional yeast, but that is another option as well.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Part two of my quest to figure out what to feed the groomsmen, I decided to make grilled skirt steak in addition to the grilled chicken. As I mentioned earlier this week, at Evan’s request I am not making a lot of different foods like dips, salsas or desserts, so the sandwiches need to be the star of the meal. After all, they are the only food offered besides chips and beer.
Because the grilled chicken is marinated in a classic garlic and herb marinade, I decided to use Mojo de Ajo to flavor the grilled skirt steak. This way both the grilled selections have a similar garlic flavor, but in their own unique way. The grilled chicken has a garlic herb profile with an Italian American flavor and the grilled skirt steak has a Mexican cuisine flavor profile from the simmered garlic, chilies and Mexican oregano. Both grilled foods are different, but they complement each other because they share similar ingredients and the same cooking method.
My hope is the grilled skirt steak sandwich with mojo de ajo will give the groomsmen a taste of something unexpected as well as delicious. Mojo de Ajo has a prominent garlic flavor but it is not strong and lingering. I feel like I contradicted myself by saying it is prominent but not strong, yet it is true. By not strong I mean the garlic behaves and like a polite guest knows when it is time to home. This is not the type of garlic that you taste all night long when your want to go to sleep. Roasted garlic is the most significant flavor, but because of the orange juice, tomatoes and arbol chilies it comes across sweeter with a kick. Grilled skirt steak in mojo de ajo is both has a familiar taste yet, it is new at the same time.
Grilled Skirt Steak
Skirt steak takes no time to grill, either on an outdoor grill or on the stove in a grill pan. My skirt steak finished cooking in 4-5 minutes on a grill pan for medium rare. However, they were thin pieces of meat. Depending on the thickness of your skirt steak and how much you want your steak to cook, it could take a minute less or a couple of minutes longer. If you have never cooked skirt steak before, start with the recommended time in the recipe and test it to see how done it is. Skirt steak tastes better when it is rare to medium rare and because my pieces were very thin, probably should cook them for less time. Additionally, it is important to rest the steaks for 10 minutes before you slice them. This way the juices will soak into your steak and not flow all over your cutting board.
Mix it up
Now, I am using grilled skirt steak to make sandwiches, but this steak makes an easy weeknight dinner as well. Last night we ate it for dinner with a green salad and devoured it. We liked it so much, we could not stop picking at it. Both of us repeatedly commented, “I’ll just have one more sliver please.” Eventually, we had to remove the grilled skirt steak from the table before we ate the whole thing.
Grilled skirt steak with mojo de ajo makes the perfect steak taco. Actually this is how I first became acquainted with the garlic sauce in the cookbook Taco.
Make fajitas with grilled skirt steak with mojo de ajo and poblano rajas, which is sautéed strips of poblano chilies and white onions. Get the recipe from my poblano chili cream sauce. This creamy poblano sauce will also taste great with grilled skirt steak.
Make a grilled skirt steak salad with arugula, avocado, oranges and baby radishes. Drizzle some of the mojo de ajo on the steak and dress with a citrus vinaigrette. My favorite is a combination of orange juice and lemon juice with a little honey, a touch of Dijon mustard, black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and finished with fresh herbs like mint or basil..
Grilled Skirt Steak with Mojo de Ajo
Add some mojo de ajo in the mayonnaise for your sandwiches for extra flavor.
- 1 ½ lb skirt steak
- Kosher Salt
- 1/3 cup oil from Mojo de Ajo get recipe from the link in the summary
- Garnish with the garlic and minced tomato from the Mojo de Ajo
Place the skirt steak in a baking dish just large enough to hold the skirt steak in an even layer. Sprinkle the skirt steak with Kosher Salt on both sides, about ½ teaspoon total, possibly a pinch more.
Separate the oil from the solids of the Mojo de Ajo and pour about 1/3 cup over the skirt steak. Turn the steaks over and rub them with the oil to get and even coating. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the skirt steaks rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Prepare your grill. Oil the grill once the coals are in place.
Place the skirts steaks on a 45° angle over the grill and sear for 2 minutes. Rotate the steaks towards the opposite 45° angle and grill for one minute. Turn the skirt steaks over and repeat on the other side. If you have a thicker piece of skirt steak try 4 minutes side. The steaks could be done anywhere from 5-8 minutes depending on how thick they are.
Remove the skirt steaks from the grill and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.
Slice across the grain in thin slices and serve garnished with the minced garlic and tomatoes from the Mojo de Ajo.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Are you a sweet or savory breakfast person? If you are like me, someone who finds it difficult to choose between the two, frittatas are a wonderful choice and a healthy(ish) alternative to quiche. Because frittatas lack an all butter pastry crust, heavy cream and extra cheese, they are not as rich as quiche, Plus they are much easier to make. What this means is, you can serve up a savory frittata as a main course and include all the pastries or coffee cake you crave. Sweet and savory satisfaction without the guilt, (kind-of). I created this spinach frittata with the dual purpose of making something elegant and savory to serve for breakfast or brunch that also leaves room for something sweet, like The Best Damn Lemon Cake or Apple Muffin with Lemon Glaze.
Spinach Frittata Inspiration
My spinach frittata recipe combines two ideas from my favorite egg dishes. The first idea is from Deborah Madison’s cookbook, In My Kitchen. She adds saffron to her Swiss Chard Flan recipe, giving the custard an exotic floral nuance that I love. Saffron compliments custards and leafy green vegetables nicely, so I decided to use it instead of freshly grated nutmeg for some extra elegance in the frittata. I love saffron and don’t mind spending the extra money to buy it. However, if you rather not use saffron, add some freshly grated nutmeg directly into the egg mixture. Fresh basil or mint provides a brighter and fresher tasting substitution for saffron, and it pairs very nicely with the spinach frittata.
The second idea is the addition of fresh ricotta, whipped smooth and spooned on top of the spinach frittata. The first time I tasted a ricotta topped frittata is when I made Joshua McFadden’s Red Pepper, Potato, Prosciutto Frittata with Ricotta from his cookbook, Six Seasons. The ricotta transformed an ordinary western omelet into a very special occasion. The ricotta gets soft and warm baked with the frittata and you want every bite filled with this light creaminess. I totally got hooked on ricotta topped frittatas and now want to add ricotta cheese to just about everything.
It pays to buy the freshly made ricotta cheese, there is a big difference in taste. Usually you can find good quality ricotta near the deli department at your grocery. Or make a small batch of ricotta cheese. It takes a lot less time than you think and tastes like real milk.
Making a frittata is fairly straight forward and quick. The only challenging part in this recipe is to julienne the leeks. For a change I decided to julienne slice the white and light green parts of the leek instead of cutting them into circles or half-moons. It doesn’t really matter how they are prepared as long as they are thoroughly cleaned and cooked till soft and translucent. The julienned leek disappears into the spinach and eggs but adds lovely sweet onion background flavor.
To julienne the leeks, cut the leek in half lengthwise then clean between the layers. Then cut across the leek dividing it into chunks the size of your desired length, mine where about an inch and a half (3.5 cm). Then slice the portioned leeks, lengthwise in very thin strips, mine were about 1/16-1/8 of an inch (about 2-3 mm). Because you won’t see the leeks you do not have to worry about being precise like you would for julienned carrots in a vegetable sauté, so don’t fret about it.
Check out this video for a live example of how to julienne leeks. In this video he discards the root end of the leek. I do not discard it and julienne cut the root as best I can.
Coming up with a name for this spinach frittata was challenging. With all the special ingredients, it could easily have a name that takes longer to say then it does to cook. Yet the mood of this frittata is all about spring and representing new life and the warming of the earth and air. Fresh farm eggs give the vegetables its foundation with a salty bite of Romano cheese. Young spring spinach and leeks provide a sense of newness to the frittata which in turn is gets grounded from the floral but earthy notes from the stamens of spring crocuses, otherwise known as saffron. Warm, creamy fresh ricotta tie all the flavors together for a sunny “Good morning” greeting. All that goodness is invigorating but not filling leaving plenty of room for pastries or dessert.
Frittatas are delicious for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or a light supper. For a spectacular Mother’s Day brunch (or any brunch), serve the spinach frittata with your favorite sides like sausage, bacon, green salad, fruit salad and your favorite pastries.
Ricotta Spinach Frittata
An elegant frittata recipe for the times when you want a special breakfast or brunch that is also easy to make. It is a lighter and healthier substitute for quiche.
- 1 pinch of saffron 1 TB boiling water
- 6 eggs
- ¼ cup 24 g finely grated real Romano cheese
- Kosher Salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1-2 TB olive oil
- 1 leek about 6 oz (187 g) Pale green and white parts only
- 5 oz 142 g spinach cleaned, and stems removed
- ½ cup 117 g real ricotta cheese
Prepare your ingredients
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C / Gas Mark 6 and place the oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Place a pinch of saffron in a small bowl and add 1 TB of just shy of boiling water to the saffron. Set aside and let the saffron steep.
In a medium size bowl, mix the eggs together with a fork until there are no egg whites visible in the mix. Add the Romano cheese and mix again until combined. Set aside.
Thoroughly clean and julienne slice the white and pale green parts of the leek, about an inch and a half in length and about 1/16 of an inch wide. See blog post for a video demonstration.
In a small bowl, whip the ricotta with a pinch of Kosher salt and a few grounds of black pepper until smooth. A fork works nicely for this job. Set aside.
Place an 8-inch (20cm) skillet, preferably a non-stick skillet with an oven-proof handle, on a burner and turn the heat to medium-high. Pour in the olive oil and heat up. Add the sliced leeks and turn down the heat to medium then sauté until soft, but not browned, about 5-7 minutes. Add the prepared spinach, in batches, and cook down until completely wilted and soft, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, pour the saffron and water to the eggs, making sure you get every last drop and all saffron threads, and whisk together with a fork.
Make the Frittata
Pour the egg mixture into the skillet with the spinach and leeks. Tilt the pan to make sure the egg mixture is evenly distributed across the whole skillet. Turn the heat to medium and let the eggs cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes.
Run a thin rubber spatula around the edge of the frittata to loosen the eggs. Pull the eggs toward the center with the spatula creating pockets for uncooked runny eggs to fill up. Repeat this step going around the circumference of the frittata. Continue to gently cook the frittata until there is a thin liquid layer on top of the frittata.
Drop spoonfuls of whipped ricotta cheese around the frittata, about 6-8 spoonfuls. Place the skillet in the oven and cook until it is solid all the way through, about 6 minutes. You may need to place the frittata under the broiler to brown the top. It is not necessary, only if you want browning on the top. If you do, watch the frittata carefully because it should only take a few minutes.
Remove from the oven and run the frittata around the edge of the skillet, then slide the frittata on to a serving plate.
Frittata is best eaten warm the same day it is made.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.