Interestingly, my non-Italian grandmother, Marie Halley, was a brilliant seamstress, not a cook, but she made one dish that I loved as a kid, Pasta e Fagioli. We called it by the nickname ‘pasta fazool’ in Italian-American slang. I never remember my Italian grandmother, who was a fabulous cook, ever making it. Sadly, the recipe my grandmother used was lost, but I got it in my head recently that I was going to make it, so I looked at recipes online and combined a couple. My grandmother used to make the pasta from scratch, but I didn’t do that for this recipe. (I have made pasta from scratch multiple times, but it is a bit of work!) The result is above, our dinner last night. I am going to continue to refine this recipe because my husband I really enjoyed it and it can be made vegetarian, which would be good as well. Here goes:
INGREDIENTS (makes 6-8 servings)
- 3 15 oz cans cannellini beans
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
- 2 ribs of celery, chopped
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 oz pancetta
- 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary and two rosemary sprigs
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup diced ham (more if you like more meat; I added this as we had lots of leftover ham. It is not necessary to the dish)
- 12-16 ounces pasta shells or ditalini pasta uncooked (gauge how many servings you want; I used shells as I couldn’t find any ditalini pasta that was gluten-free)
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- Parmesan cheese shredded (for garnish)
- Fresh rosemary sprigs (optional for garnish)
- Parmesan crisp (optional for garnish)
- Crusty bread, to dip into the sauce.
- Drain one can of beans, and set aside.
- In a very large soup pot, heat olive oil. Add onion, pancetta, carrots and celery and saute until onions are golden, about five minutes. Add garlic and rosemary and toss for a few minutes. Add a bit of salt and pepper and stir.
- Transfer sauteed ingredients to a blender or food processor and add the two other cans of beans (liquid included). Puree until smooth.
- Add the pureed mixture back into the pot (scraping out as much as you can), and then add the drained beans, the chicken and vegetable broth, salt, pepper, oregano, red pepper flakes (if using), ham and crushed tomatoes. Stir well and add two rosemary sprigs (optional). Bring to a boil and let simmer for 30 minutes. (I let it cook down a bit; if you like it more watery, you can always add more broth).
- Bring the mixture to boil again, add the pasta and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.
- Once the pasta is cooked, remove from heat.
- Taste, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Remove rosemary sprigs.
- Serve, topped with rosemary sprig and parmesan cheese (leave extra parmesan on the table). Crusty bread for dipping in the sauce is desired. Tuck parmesan crisp in the side of the serving bowl. (Recipe for parmesan crisp below).
Shredded parmesan (I like to use Trader Joe’s)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spread the shredded parmesan into six to eight circles on the parchment paper, making sure that the circles don’t touch and that the individual circles are loosely formed, and not dense (you can see that the finished crisp has holes in it as the cheese wasn’t packed together). If you use too much cheese in each circle, densely packed, the crisps will be chewy rather than crispy.
Bake the cheese for about 7-10 minutes. I tend to watch it closely after seven minutes; you’ll see some of the edges pop off the parchment paper, which is a clue that they are getting close to being done. Remove and let cool on the parchment. After about 30 minutes or so, you can lift the cooled crisps easily off the paper.