Ahh.... Pasta e Fagioli! An easy, delicious soup for any time.
This recipe comes from my favorite Italian cookbook:Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Pasta e Fagioli is a very flexible recipe, but hers is the best. I don't use it exactly as she has it here, but it is an excellent starting point.
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
2 T chopped onion
3 T chopped carrot
3 T chopped celery
3-4 pork ribs or ham bone with some meat on it (I totally skip this, because hubby doesn't eat pork)
2/3 c canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juices (or fresh tomatoes, peeled and cut up)
2 lbs fresh cranberry or red kidney beans (or 3 c. canned or cooked dried beans - drained) (I use whatever beans I have on hand - often canellini, always canned)
3 c (or more if needed) beef broth (1 c. canned broth diluted with 2 c. water) (We don't eat beef either, so we use Chicken Stock.)
Black pepper (freshly ground)
1/2 lb small tubular pasta (I use whatever I have on hand, but never anything long like spaghetti/fettucini/linguini)
1 T butter
2 T freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Put olive oil and onion in soup pot and turn on heat to medium. Cook the onion, stirring, until it is pale gold. Add the carrot and celery, stir once or twice to coat them well, then add pork. Cook for 10 minutes, turning meat and vegetables from time to time. Add the cut up tomatoes and their juice, adjust the heat so that the juices simmer very gently, and cook for 10 minutes.
If using fresh beans: Shell, rinse and put in soup pot. Stir 2-3 times to coat well, then add the broth. Cover the pot, adjust the heat so that the broth bubbles at a steady, but gentle boil, and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the beans are fully tender.
If using canned (or cooked dried) beans: Extend the cooking time for the tomatoes in Step 3 to 20 minutes. Add the drained cooked or canned beans, stirring them thoroughly to coat them well. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the broth, cover the pot, and bring the broth to a gentle boil.
Scoop up about 1/2 c of beans and mash them and return to the pot. Add salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and stir thoroughly.
Check the soup for density: It should be liquid enough to cook the pasta in. If necessary, add more broth or, if you are using canned broth, more water. When the soup comes to a steady, moderate boil, add the pasta. Stop cooking when pasta is tender, but still firm to the bite. Before turning off the heat, swirl in the butter and grated cheese.
Allow it to settle for 10 minutes before serving as it tastes better when warm rather than piping hot. Serve with a nice, crusty bread!
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