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.
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.
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.