Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pasta e Fagioli

I know it's been unseasonably warm back home [upper 80s instead of upper 70s] but Yankee Land just got more snow [April Fool's!], so hearty soup is still on my menu. The first time I saw a recipe for pasta fagioli I thought a soup comprised almost entirely of beans and pasta couldn't be that tasty.... but I was very very wrong. Italians cooks have a long history of making the whole far greater than the sum of its parts, and this soup is a part of that strong tradition.
Since the primary components are so simple, the seasonings and garnishes are very important in this soup, and fresh herbs really make a difference.  I quit using chicken stock in it a while back in favor of cheese rinds -- I keep a "rind baggie" in the freezer and any time I get down to the hard end of a wedge of parm or pecorino, I just throw it in there for later use.  You _could_ also buy a wedge, cut off the rind for the soup, then use the rest later.  The reason you want to use the rind is that it will impart great flavor [umami] but holds together throughout cooking and won't change the texture of the soup. I'm not the biggest fan of eating the rind, but JG loves them, so everyone wins.  You _could_ just discard them at the end, but there's probably someone at the table who would be happy to have them.

This soup is traditionally meatless, but I had some ground turkey that needed to be used so I made some super-simple mini meatballs [no binder required].  I included a recipe, but it's certainly not necessary for the soup. 
Finally, I believe this soup demands whole wheat pasta [shocking, I know].  Refined flour pasta will eventually turn to mush and make the leftovers much less appealing, but the bran in the whole wheat pasta maintains its structural integrity so each reheated bowl is even better than the one before.

Recipes: Pasta Fagioli and Mini Turkey Meatballs
I've made this soup many times from dry bean or canned and while I have to give the dry bean version the win by a nose, I will never hesitate to make it from canned if I want it in less than an hour.

Dry Bean Method
Brining the dried beans makes the skins soft, but you have to make sure to thoroughly rinse them before cooking as any salt in the cooking water will make the beans mealy... tricky, I know.

1 lb dried cannellini, navy, or flagiolet beans
water to cover by 2"
1 T salt

1 T olive oil
1 large onion, medium dice
2 stalks celery, thin slice
6 cloves garlic, minced
12 cups water [optional: sub part chicken or vegetable stock]
 2 T chopped fresh sage
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
2-3  2" 2" hard cheese rinds [like parmesan or pecorino]

1  15 oz can diced tomato, au jus
1 T kosher salt
1 T cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

6 oz or 1 1/2 cups dried whole wheat pasta (usually tubular, but I like gemelli)

Shaved parmesan, olive oil, and cracked black pepper for garnish

Instructions:
Pour beans in a large bowl of water and cover with at least two inches of water [meaning there should be two inches of water above the beans].  Stir in salt and set aside for 8 hours or overnight [cover if you like, doesn't matter].

Drain and rinse beans thoroughly, then transfer to a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the water, onions, celery, garlic, herbs,  and cheese rinds. Bring just to the boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 40 minutes [or pressure cook for 15].

Add tomatoes, salt and peppers and continue to cook for another 20 minutes [or pressure cook for 5]. 

After one hour total simmer time, increase heat to medium-high, add pasta and cook ~10 more minutes or until pasta is tender.

Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with shaved cheese, cracked black pepper, and a splash of good olive oil.



Canned Bean Method

1 T olive oil
1 large onion, medium dice
2 stalks celery, thin slice
6 cloves garlic, minced
12 cups water [optional: sub part chicken or vegetable stock]
3 15 oz cans cannellini, navy, or flagiolet beans, drained and rinsed
2-3  2" hard cheese rinds [like parmesan or pecorino]
1  15 oz can diced tomato
2 T chopped fresh sage
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
1 T kosher salt
2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

6 oz or 1 1/2 cups dried whole wheat pasta (usually tubular, but I like gemelli)

Olive oil,  shaved parmesan, and cracked black pepper for garnish

Instructions:
Heat oil in large dutch oven or stock pot over medium-low heat.  Sweat the onions and celery until translucent but not browned ~10 minutes.  Add garlic and stir untril fragrant ~30 seconds, then add all remaining ingredients except pasta.  Increase heat to high, bring just to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, add pasta and cook ~10 more minutes or until pasta is tender.

Ladle into individual bowls and garnish with shaved cheese, cracked black pepper, and a splash of good olive oil.


Mini Turkey Meatballs
3/4 lb ground turkey (preferably dark meat)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground fennel seed
1/4 tsp ground grains of paradise [optional... or double the fennel]

Sprinkle seasoning over meat.  Squeeze everything through your fingers until the meat feels kind of gluey.  Roll into small balls, ~1 tsp each.  Add to the soup with the tomatoes.

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