Like most Italians, my husband grew up eating his Noni’s Pasta Fagioli, aka “pasta and beans.” No doubt, you’ve heard its colloquial name, “Pasta Fazool”… Southern Italians have a habit of dropping the final vowel.
Pasta Fagioli is a rustic, thick soup made with cannellini beans and ditalini pasta. The base consists of a classic mirepoix, garlic, chicken stock and San Marzano tomatoes. I used canned cannellini beans to save time, though Noni would tell you to soak them overnight. Mashing up some of the beans into the soup creates a rich and silky broth.
This humble peasant soup will warm your heart on these first chilly nights of late summer.
3 slices Niman Ranch bacon, chopped
1 large red onion, chopped fine
2 carrots, chopped fine
2 ribs celery, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, chopped
several pinches of dried oregano
1 Bay leaf
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 16-oz cans white beans, rinsed and drained well
1 28-oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 cup Ditalini or Tubetti (small tubular pasta)
4 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving
salt and fresh black pepper
1. In a heavy saucepan or Dutch Oven over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring, until it is crisp and fat has rendered. Pour off all but 2 tbslp of the fat, and add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables have softened, about 8 minutes.
2. Add the broth, chopped tomatoes, oregano and bay leaf to the sauce pan and bring to a simmer. In a bowl, mash 1/2 cup of the beans, and stir them into the soup. Simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes.
3. Stir in the pasta and the rest of the whole beans. Simmer, covered until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes. If desired, thin the soup out with more broth or water. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
4. Serve in soup bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley and a generous showering of Parmesan cheese.