Pasta e Fagioli Made Easy

Pasta e Fagioli
www.jackaiello.photoshelter.com
Why does my photography blog look like a Food Network page, all of a sudden?  Well, I told you that my site might take some twists and turns, and besides, I don't entirely ignore food in my photography. Because the weather has been so foul and cold lately, I feel like talking about my favorite Italian comfort food, pasta e fagioli, or Pasta Fazool as it's more commonly referred to in the U.S.

Pasta e fagioli is an Italian peasant dish that doesn't require a lot of fancy ingredients. It's meant to be hearty, simple to make, absolutely delicious and will keep your tummy warm and full during those bitter cold winter months. This is my father's recipe. My dad, for many of you who don't know, was a well respected chef for Elaine's Restaurant in New York City during its heyday in the late 70's and 80's.  Here we go:

Ingredients
  • Olive Oil
  • 3 cloves of smashed garlic
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • About 2-3 Tbsp. pancetta cut in small cubes
  • 15 oz can of White Cannellini Beans (if you don't have this in your pantry, the beauty of pasta e fagioli is that it can be made with any kind of beans. Try red kidney beans, even chick peas if that's what you find)
  • A squirt of tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes (I prefer TuttoRosso crushed tomatoes with basil)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 Chicken bouillon cube
  •  About a cup Elbow or Ditalini Macaroni
  • Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese and ground black pepper for garnish
In a large pot, drizzle just a little olive oil at the bottom. Doesn't need to be a lot, just eyeball it.  Add the crushed garlic cloves, small pinch of red pepper flakes and the pancetta. Under low heat, saute everything for a few minutes until the garlic becomes golden and the pancetta starts to crisp.

Add 3/4 cup crushed tomatoes and let everything cook for an extra few minutes under the low flame. Squirt some tomato paste in there - eyeball it, no more than a tablespoon - and stir. Next, add the entire contents of the cannellini beans - do not drain the can. Continuing under the low heat, cook the beans in the tomato sauce for another ten minutes.

Now here's a twist to the recipe that is crucial: with a stick blender, or a masher, start pureeing or smashing the base mixture of beans and tomato sauce so that it transforms from a bright red, to an almost orange/pink color. Note, don't smash all the beans. Continue to cook under a low heat for a few more minutes.

Add the water and the chicken bouillon, and under a medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Next, add about a cup of elbow or ditalini pasta and stir frequently until the pasta cooks to al dente.  

Initially, your pasta e fagioli will look soupy like this:
Pasta e Fagioli - Jack Aiello Photography
Jack Aiello  •  www.jackaiello.photoshelter.com
but once you let it rest for 15 minutes, it'll start to thicken and appear more hearty like this:
Pasta e Fagioli - Jack Aiello Photography
Jack Aiello  •  www.jackaiello.photoshelter.com
Sprinkle with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some fresh ground pepper.

A few notes
  • I prefer using the Tuttorosso brand because their crushed tomatoes contain basil bits and comes already salted. Some other crushed tomato brands are unsalted.  That's fine to use, but then the chicken bouillon cube might not be enough flavoring and you may have to salt to taste. Just play with it.
  • Let's talk Pancetta. Pancetta helps round out the dish, but the goal here is simple, simple, simple. If you can't find pancetta at your local supermarket, just leave it out.
  • DO try to find Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese - and NOT processed "parmesan". Even try Pecorino Romano, whatever, but don't skimp on these fresh ingredients; it makes a difference, even the fresh ground black pepper. 
If you do it right (and you can't mess this up), this dish will warm your belly in the coldest winter nights. Enjoy and Buon Appetito!





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