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A&E >  Food

In the Kitchen With Ricky: Pasta e fagioli is a simple, traditional soup with versatility

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 8, 2021

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

This week, we’re stepping away from the holidays and national food days for a traditional and easy soup recipe. Make this recipe for a simple weeknight meal or a Sunday night family get together just the same. I find it to be an extremely comforting dish and hope that it finds its way onto your stove this soup season.

Pasta e fagioli translates to “pasta and beans” in Italian; however, this recipe is so much more than that. This hearty stew-like soup has Italian roots, but has made a lasting impression on Americans, largely because of the song “That’s Amore” with the line, “When the stars make you drool, just like pasta fazool, that’s amore,” made popular by Dean Martin.

Others also may know this soup from the Olive Garden and it being an option when ordering unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks. I grew up hearing the soup pronounced “pasta fazool” from my grandmother, which has more of a New York dialect in pronunciation.

She was not from New York; however, her father came through Ellis Island when emigrating from Italy in the early 1900s and I figure I picked it up then. She would make and serve it before big dinner parties as a starter; however, I think it is plenty satisfying enough to be the main course.

Pasta e fagioli has many preparations, and the only major requirement is that it contains pasta and beans. Ingredients and preparations greatly vary from region or town, and just like many other popular Italian dishes, started out of a need for a meal with inexpensive ingredients and would be considered peasant food.

Try it with chickpeas instead of beans for a version eaten in Rome called pasta e ceci, or make it vegetarian by substituting the prosciutto/bacon for a few more tablespoons of olive oil and using vegetable stock.

Pasta e Fagioli

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces pancetta, guanciale or bacon, diced

1 large onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 bay leaves

4 cloves garlic, minced

A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only

1 quart (32 ounces) chicken broth

1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Salt and black pepper, to taste

2 cups water

1 ½ cups elbow pasta

1 (15.5-ounce) can of beans (I recommend kidney, cannellini or cranberry)

¼ cup basil leaves, torn

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, over medium heat, heat the olive oil and sauté the pancetta until golden brown.

Add the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaves. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and thyme and cook for another couple minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken broth, salt and pepper.

Cover, lower the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, stir and add in the dry pasta along with 2 cups of water.

Cook according to the package directions until al dente (mine said 5 minutes).

Add in the beans with the liquid from the can and cook for another couple of minutes, or until the beans are heated and the soup is simmering again.

Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with basil and Parmesan cheese.

Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Local award-winning chef and Rind and Wheat owner Ricky Webster can be reached at Follow Webster on Instagram @rickycaker.

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