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.