Pasta y Fagiole

So, the Reverend and I are trying to cut back on our food spending a bit, which has inspired me this week for our dinners. Tonight is pasta e fagioli, or as it is often Americanised, Pasta Fazul…

The recipe:

Pasta e fagioli

Ingredients

1 pound dried borlotti beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces proscuitto ends, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 10-ounce can plum tomatoes, with their juice, chopped
6 to 8 cups chicken or beef stock
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 pound penne rigate

Grated Parmesan cheese

Method

Soak the beans in water to cover overnight (6-10 hours), or use the quick soak method: Add dried beans to a large saucepan, add water to cover by 2 inches, and bring to boil. Cook 5 minutes, then cover, remove from heat and let sit for 1 hour. Drain.

Heat the olive oil and cook the proscuitto ends for five minutes. Add the onion, garlic, celery and carrot and cook for 10 minutes, or until softened.

Add the tomatoes with their juice, the beans and the stock. Bring to boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and continue cooking until the beans are soft (about 20 more minutes).

In a food processor, puree half the beans with some of their cooking liquid and return puree to the saucepan. Check density of the soup and add stock if it is too thick.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, cook the penne in boiling salted water until it is barely al dente. Drain it and add it to the soup. Correct the seasoning as needed.

Garnish with parmesan cheese.

What I did differently:

I opted to use navy beans, instead of borlotti or cannellini beans, as our local market didn’t have the latter two. I like working with dried beans, but you can use tinned beans if you like – just skip the soaking, drain and rinse them well. You want a good 2-3 cups of beans, which I reckon as being about two 14oz. tins.

As we were trying to save a bit of money, I opted to go with a thick-cut American-style (streaky) bacon. The main thing the bacon is going to do is add a bit of depth to the broth and a fair whack of salt. Realistically, any engineering-grade bacon will do, so feel free to use proscuitto, pancetta, thick-cut American style bacon like I did, or whatever else suits your fancy. Using streaky bacon, I didn’t use any olive oil, as the bacon leavings were plenty to cook the veg up in.

I added about a teaspoon of dried thyme and two small bay leaves when I added the stock, which was chicken, not beef.

Because I was using navy beans, the cooking time was cut down a bit. Basically, after the first 25 minutes of simmering, I started the water for pasta, when the pasta was done, I drained it and added it to the beans and broth, and pretty much called it done. If you’re using tinned beans, the cooking time will be even less. Just taste the beans periodically to test their softness if using a larger bean.

Rather than penne, I opted for gemelli, pretty much just because I like the shape. Any small shaped pasta will do, so have fun with it. You might be tempted to add more pasta, when you’re looking at the big vat o broth and the wee pot of pasta, but seriously, don’t. Half a pound (~225g) of pasta is plenty.

I used 6 cups of stock, and a 28oz. (794g) tin of tomatoes, because that’s what size tin we had in the pantry. You can add more stock if you want it to be more soupy. Fair warning: people will often treat this like soup, so guage this for your tastes in that regard.

I also skipped the puree step, because, really, I couldn’t be arsed.

At the Reverrend’s behest, I added about a half teaspoon of salt (three very healthy pinches) to the stock, but we didn’t add any pepper.

The results: The navy beans held up better than I was expecting them too, and feature nicely in a flavourful and hearty dish that I hesitate to call a soup or a stew, to be honest. Next time, I may increase the stock, to make it closer to a proper soup, since everyone in the house was scooping up extra broth, trying to make it be a soup in their bowl. We thought the beans seemed a little ‘dry’, so next time, I may try cooking them a little longer. Everyone’s having seconds, and there’s still enough for at least lunch tomorrow, so I’d say it went over at least decently well. Next time, I think pairing it with a nice crusty bread would be good.

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