Pasta e fagioli, an Italian soup with pasta and beans

Wintertime calls for soup and my favorites are Italian with ditalini, a little tubular pasta that lets the soup base slide right through. Pasta e fagioli is a broth-based soup with vegetables and tomatoes, and the eponymous beans. Bowl of pasta and beansA typical bean for this dish is cannellini beans, a classic white bean that also goes well in soups with escarole. Tonight, I’m using cranberry beans, so named because of the cranberry-colored striping on these white beans and their pods. After they cook, these loose the cranberry color and appear a rouge beige color. They provide a wonderful consistency. Pasta e fagioli is a great Sunday dinner soup and a great dish for entertaining. I once served it for a football party and people could just ladle a cup or bowl as they wanted. Before I relate the recipe, here are the basic ingredients:

  • Garlic, onion, celery and carrot
  • Pancetta
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned or dried beans
  • Veggie, chicken or beef broth
  • Ditalini
  • Parsley
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

My father makes a fantastic pasta e fagioli, and I had thought he was following a cookbook recipe. Nope, he has it in his mind, so I took dictation from him once and labeled in my recipe binder as Pasta e Fagioli Off the Top of Dad’s Head. Well, the proportions are flexible!

Sorting cranberry beans
Sorting cranberry beans

His basic recipe for a 15. oz can of beans had: 2 stalks of celery, 2 large carrots, half a big onion or a small onion and 2 to 3 cloves of garlic. He only used ¾ cup of tomatoes and 8 oz of pasta. Well, I was using a bag of dried beans tonight and realized I needed to roughly double the proportions:

  • 1 bag of cranberry beans
  • 2 #10-slices of pancetta
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • half a red onion
  • six stalks of carrots
  • six carrots
  • 2 28 oz. canned of diced tomatoes.
  • 16 oz. of vegetable broth, 1 small can of chicken broth
  • An extra can of chicken broth is on hand, in case the beans absorb a lot of broth as they continue to cook.
  • Shaved parmesan
  • *16 oz. box of ditalini, but I’m only going to cook half in a separate pot of water.
  • Fresh parsley to chop and add to soup when serving.

*After the main soup is fully cooked. I will fold it into the pot of cooked pasta, ladle by ladle to the get the ratio right and then reserve the rest of the soup in the freezer. This soup freezes beautifully without pasta. Frozen and then defrosted pasta is just terrible.

Pancetta on a cutting board.
Slicing pancetta

Don’t do it. Instructions: Dice pancetta and place in a hot Dutch oven. Brown. Add diced carrots and allow to soften and meld with the melted pancetta fat. Add diced onion, garlic and celery. Stir, cover and allow to simmer 10 minutes to soften together. Add tomatoes and stir in fresh ground black pepper. Under no circumstances should you add salt because the pancetta is salty! Cover again and simmer tomatoes and veggies for another 15 minutes. Add beans. (I used the so-called quick cook method for the beans so they still needed more cooking to soften up. If you just use canned beans, they only need to be in the soup for about 5-10 minutes to absorb some of the flavor of the broth. The ditalini are separately boiled in fresh water, drained and then stirred into the soup. Hence, pasta e fagioli. Ladle into individual bowls and sprinkle over grated Italian cheese and chopped fresh parsley. If you want a little heat, sprinkle red pepper flakes on and stir. Buon Appetito The Sage Leopard

Shrimp, scallops and black-eyed peas

Only good things come from pancetta. My boyfriend used to travel to a small town in northern Italy and was rather surprised that pancetta popped up in breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have no problem with that whatsoever. For a shrimp and scallop dinner, I opted to cook them separately.

pancetta melting
pancetta melting

The scallops were sautéed after melting thinly sliced garlic into pancetta. The key to pancetta is to dice it and then let it hit a hot pan. Let the fat liquefy and brown the meat. Then add to it, starting with garlic. In this case, then the scallops. To deglaze, I squeezed fresh Meyer lemon juice on the pan. For the black-eyed peas, I just added them to a little pot of browned pancetta. Parsley can also be added at the end of cooking such a dish to brighten up the flavors.

keep parsley on hand at all times
keep parsley on hand at all times

IMG_5905The shrimp for this dinner was paired in the cooking process with a vegetable. I was trying a great recipe from a Food 52 cookbook for roasted cauliflower, which calls for parboiling in a combo of wine, water and olive oil. The cauliflower is then placed on a roasting pan in the oven. I had reserved the wine broth and brought it back to a boil for the shrimp. Surprisingly, none of this seemed difficult. Soon enough, the table was laden with a bowl of shrimp, a bowl of scallops, a dish of black-eyed peas and a plate of roasted cauliflower.