Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pasta e Fagioli

Winter always finds me cooking comfort food for myself and my family and among my very favorite comfort foods is pasta e fagioli, the classic Italian pasta and bean dish that is associated primarily with Tuscany, home of the mangiafagioli, the bean eaters. Like the recipes for most comfort foods around the world, the recipe for pasta e fagioli varies widely, sometimes a soup, sometimes a thick stew, sometimes with tomatoes, sometimes without, sometimes with red wine, sometimes with white—you get the idea. With no further introduction, then, here is my version. Please enjoy.

Pasta e Fagioli

extra virgin olive oil
3-4 ounces pancetta, in small dice
1 carrot, in small dice
1 onion, in small dice
2 stalks celery, in small dice
12 fresh sage leaves, finely minced
4 sprigs fresh Italian parsley, finely minced
8 branches fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 small branch rosemary, finely minced
salt and pepper, to taste
8 cloves garlic, minced
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste (Italian doppio concentrato)
½ cup dry white wine
2 cups broth or water
½ pound dried cannellini, soaked and precooked
   (or 2 15-ounce cans cannellini)
1 pound ditalini
Grated cheese

Film the bottom of a heavy soup pot with extra virgin olive oil. Over high heat, cook the pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, fresh herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper for several minutes, until the vegetables start to brown.

Add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and the tomato paste. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the garlic smells wonderful and the tomato paste starts to caramelize on the bottom of the pan.

Pour in the white wine and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Let the wine evaporate by half, then add the broth or water. Instead of broth or water, you could use bean cooking broth or even pasta cooking water. Add the beans and bring up to a simmer.

While the beans and vegetables are marrying over a low flame, bring the pasta water to a boil and cook the ditalini to almost done. Strain the ditalini and add to the beans. Adjust the liquid and seasonings to your liking.

Serve in deep soup plates and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle with grated cheese. Pasta e fagioli pairs brilliantly with a simple light Italian red such as a Langhe Nebbiolo or a Tuscan Sangiovese.

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