Pasta e Fagioli is an Italian bean and pasta soup that is a homey dish best served in large bowlfuls and slurped up with a spoon, eaten in cold weather. Yes, cold weather. Today has got to be the coldest day of Summer; I was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt. And we are nearing the end of June! Also, I had a craving for beans and pasta in soup form. This soup ticks all the right boxes.
There are many versions for this thick soup, none wrong and all quite delicious. But I like to make it without pancetta (to keep this soup pleasing for my vegetarian daughter) and pretty much unadorned with vegetables, the inclusion of which will lean this soup towards a minestrone, in my opinion. But what do I know? As your own cook, you can surely add anything you want to your bean and pasta soup to make it taste good to you. But one thing I am certain of is this: this soup tastes best if it is made with beans (fresh or dried) that are cooked from scratch. The liquid that the beans have been cooked in ends up being so tasty that I use it as the base for my soup (waste not!) to cook the pasta after the beans are all nice and soft. That makes this soup an easy one pot meal.
I don’t usually follow a recipe when cooking beans from scratch; however, the ingredients I use are largely similar to this recipe by Nigella Lawson. The method varies – I usually chop the aromatics finely and throw them into the pot to cook with the beans. And the choice of fresh herbs varies as well; fresh sage and thyme, and a dried bay leaf, are all good substitutes for rosemary. I also like to throw in a stick of finely diced celery rib if I have it – celery is one of those vegetables that I have to make an effort to use up if not the entire bulk will end up rotting in the vegetable crisper compartment of my fridge.
One valuable tip I learned from reading Anna Del Conte’s book, Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes, is to add a couple tablespoons of red wine vinegar to the soup. This provides a sharpness of flavour that awakens the bean soup and makes it sing. Try it, and you’ll taste the difference.