OK, this is the last pasta dish for a while, I promise. Especially since I’m neither an Italian grandmother nor do I have the unstoppable metabolism of a 15-year-old boy. But last Saturday, I had to choose between going to the grocery while it was snowing in Nashville and making due with what was in the pantry. And since I do not want to make “News of the Weird” for being trampled to death because I veered too close to the chili beans or toilet paper, I went with the pantry and Lidia Bastianich’s Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans).
The ingredients are things you’ve probably had on-hand all winter: beans, pasta, canned tomatoes, potatoes, bacon, onion, carrots, Parmesan and olive oil. You could just throw them into a pot and simmer them, but Bastianich coaxes as much flavor as possible from each ingredient. Take the bacon: Instead of frying it and adding it to the pot, she teaches you to blend the raw bacon in a food processor with the garlic, add that garlicky bacon paste to a hot skillet and use it for softening the onion, carrots and tomatoes. By the time you add those sautéed vegetables to the soup pot, the bacon is ready to disappear into the liquid, infusing it with that salty, smoky flavor that just does things for beans. And life.
About the olive oil and Parmesan … don’t skip those. I know, they seem like finishing touches (a drizzle of this and a sprinkle of that), but they are absolutely essential. Without them, you just have a big pot of pasta, beans and potatoes. Not very exciting. But top each bowl with a thin stream of olive oil (for extra flavor and richness) and a salty sprinkle of Parmesan, and you’ve got a soup that’s 100 percent sexier.
That’s 200 percent sexier than being trampled in the TP aisle.
Pasta e Fagioli
This soup freezes like a dream, as long as you leave the pasta out. Just make it separately, and add it to the pot when you’re ready to serve the soup.
Slightly adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s “Lidia’s Favorite Recipes”
Makes enough for 6 really big bowls
- 3 quarts (12 cups) water or chicken broth (or a mix of the two)
- 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, undrained
- 1 to 2 baking potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1/2 cup chopped bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces (That’s 2 to 6 slices, depending on the bacon.)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the soup
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 carrots, shredded
- 1 (14.5ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), crushed by hand
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/2 pound ditalini, or 1 1/2 cups elbow pasta
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Heat the water or stock in a large pot over high heat. Add the beans, whole potatoes, rosemary and bay leaves. Bring to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.
- In the meantime, place the bacon and garlic in a food processor, and process it into a paste.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon-garlic paste and cook, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in the onion and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in the carrots, and cook until the onion begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
- Pour 1 ladleful of the bean-cooking water into the skillet, and bring to a boil. Then scrape the contents of the skillet into the soup pot. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and bring to a slow boil. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Ladle about one-third of the beans (and enough cooking liquid to cover them) into a small bowl, and let them cool. Mash them with a fork, and put them back into the pot.
- Remove the potatoes, mash them with a fork, and return them to the pot.
- Cook the soup another 10 minutes. Then let it rest off the heat, covered, 10 to 15 minutes.
- While the soup is resting, cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain, and stir into the soup.
- Let the soup rest for 5 minutes. Throw out the rosemary stems and bay leaves.
- Serve in warm soup bowls, with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a generous dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano.