Pasta e Fagioli
We had some old friends over for dinner this weekend, and the woman called before they came to tell me, a bit sheepishly, that they were trying to adhere to a plant based diet now. She made it clear she’d be happy to eat anything I cooked, but wanted me to know. Although I had just picked up 50 pounds of bison from the stock show auction and 25 pounds of grass fed beef from Sun Prairie Natural Beef to add to the whole lamb and half hog in my freezer, I wanted to honor their dietary wishes and decided it was the perfect opportunity to perfect a pasta e fagioli recipe, a classic Italian soup that my mom used to love making.The “fagioli” part of this recipe means “beans” in Italian, and the first thing you need to do with dried beans is pick out the broken or bad ones.I had been wanting to try cooking dried beans in a pressure cooker for some time, so loaded them in with water, bay leaves, a whole shallot and some peppercorns, hoping to impart some interesting flavors into the beans. Everything I read online said 1 hour in the pressure cooker would do the trick. I did two different batches – one with very old dried beans and one with newly purchase dried beans – and both resulted in really mushy beans. I’m going to keep working on the timing and will let you know what really works, but since this recipe calls for some of the beans to be pureed anyway, I used the mushy ones for the puree, then added canned beans to finish out the recipe.I also wanted to be pure about my plant based meal so opted for vegetable stock for the base. I started with canned vegetable stock that I then simmered with a bunch of vegetables – carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms – for about 30 minutes to impart more flavor. I keep scraps like these in the freezer for just this purpose. And doesn’t the reflection of the vegetables on the inside of the pot make this look like some artistic foodie photo?!A classic Italian recipe for this soup will call for only sage, but at times I find that too strong so I wanted to use half sage and half thyme. Despite being covered under a foot of snow, my herb garden has miraculously continued to provide me fresh herbs all winter long. And the thyme is even growing fresh sprouts like this one.Once I strained the vegetable stock, I added the bean puree along with the aromatic flavorings for the soup……and a couple of jars of tomatoes from my garden last summer that I had frozen. I drained off all of the water and chopped them up before adding them to the soup……along with a bunch of chopped kale for extra nutrition and the whole cannelini beans. I also added some Parmigiano Reggiano rinds to flavor the soup while it simmered – just make sure to remove them before serving (and ps, they make the best little snack to nibble on while you’re cooking after they are all melted and gooey!). Bring the soup to a boil, and reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes to bring the flavors together, then return the heat to high and add the dry pasta when the liquid comes to a boil.Cook just until al dente and serve immediately with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for sprinkling on top. Mangia!
- 2 cups cannellini beans, dried
- 10 cups vegetable stock
- 2 cups diced canned tomatoes, drained
- 1 bunch kale, chopped
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
- 8 ounces pasta, small shape, dried
- salt and pepper, to taste
- grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for garnish
- Cook the cannellini beans either by a traditional soak and cook method or by using a pressure cooker to cook more quickly. Drain beans, reserving some of the bean water. Puree half of the beans using some of the water as needed. Combine pureed beans with stock, tomatoes, kale, onion, garlic, thyme and sage and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add cooked beans and return to a boil, then add pasta and cook just until al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for garnish.