It’s soup time again. Well, the temperatures in Los Angeles have dipped into the ‘50s and such occurrence calls for pots of soups. The older I get or, maybe, the longer I stay away from Italy, I find myself craving the staples of my childhood, just like the way my mother made them. Pasta e Fagioli would be served once every couple of weeks at my house, over the winter, and, to my young palate, my mom’s handmade and roughly cut pasta, was the best part. Forget the beans. How palates change!
My mother always used a bean variety called “borlotti”, closely related to cranberry beans but, scanning the aisles of my very well stocked supermarket, I couldn’t find cranberry beans and I settled for pinto beans that also work well. I like my bean soup extremely thick, more of a puree really, with the surprise of chewy pasta in between the folds.
This is my mother’s recipe – I made it this morning from memory and then I called her to verify the different steps. Dried beans require the overnight soaking and the long cooking times but they are more flavorful than canned ones. In a pinch, though, don’t feel bad about reaching for a can.
RECIPE – Serves 4
1/2 pound dried cranberry or pinto beans, soaked for at least 12 hours
1 C canned tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 T parsley, chopped
olive oil as needed
salt and pepper
sprinkle of Parmesan
1/2 onion, 1 stalk of celery and one bay leaf
1/2 pound short pasta
- Rinse the soaked beans, put them in a pot with the onion, celery stalk and bay leaf. Cover with cold water and cook for about 90 minutes or until the beans are tender. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
- Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot and, when very hot, add the garlic and parsley and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and let cook on low for a while, until thickened, about 15/20 minutes.
- Add the beans and a couple of cups of the reserved cooking liquid, salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until heated through and, using an immersion blender, puree most of the beans. If the soup is too thick, add more of the bean cooking liquid.
- Separately, cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain and drop it in the bean soup.
- Ladle it in the bowls immediately and sprinkle with Parmesan.