Sep 142012

Pasta Fazool

I am such a huge sucker for hearty bean stews. The moment that the summer heat shows that it might be wavering in its resolve, I’m pulling out all my cookbooks and playing match-maker with my stash of beans. Borlotti beans often find a starring role in my kitchen in every imaginable application, and this soup is no exception.

Pasta e fagioli (aka pasta fazool) is a dish born of frugality, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be boring. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to find bland versions of this soup, with boring beans, mushy pasta, and a lack-luster broth. This soup rectifies all those wrongs and then some, all without requiring you to slave over a stove for hours or leave a pot simmering all day. Served in small portions, it makes an excellent appetizer (or primi if you’re going authentic-Italian-style), or scooped up into bigger bowls, it’s hearty enough to be a meal in itself. Either way, it’s a delicious and welcome addition to any table — whatever the weather!

Pasta Fazool!

Pasta e Fagioli
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Soups & Stews
Makes about 4 quarts

If much of this soup is going to be destined for leftovers or the freezer, prevent over-mushy pasta by removing the soup from the heat before adding it. Residual heat will cook the pasta and leave you will a much more pleasant texture.
Don’t skip the anchovies! You won’t be able to pick them out of a line-up, but they add quite a bit of flavor to the soup.
The bean variety called for is getting easier to find in grocery stores, but if you’re having trouble, you can get them from Rancho Gordo. See the variations section below if you want to use canned instead.
4 cups cooked borlotti or cranberry beans (from 1 1/3 cup dried), bean-broth drained and reserved
Water, enough to soak and cook the beans
1-2 sprigs rosemary
Table salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 celery rib, chopped fine (about 3/4 cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets, minced into a paste
1 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, crushed by hand, with juice
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, about 5×2 inches
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
8 ounces small pasta shapes, such as orzo
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Ground black pepper
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
Add water to the bean-broth until you have 2 1/2 cups of liquid.
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes. Add the onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and anchovies; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cheese rind and beans; bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer to blend the flavors, about ten minutes.
Add chicken stock, reserved bean-broth, and 1 teaspoon salt. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes (refer to the pasta package to better estimate cooking time). Stir often, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any stuck pasta.
Fish-out and discard the cheese rind. Off-heat, stir in 3 tablespoons parsley and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into individual bowls; drizzle each with a fruity extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle a portion of the remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing the grated Parmesan at the table.
If you want to use canned beans instead of dried, use two 15-ounce cans of cannellini beans (as canned borlottis or cranberry beans are extremely difficult to find). Drain and rinse the beans (discarding the liquid), and when it comes time to add the liquids, substitute 2 1/2 cups of water for the reserved bean-broth.

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