In the depth of my freezer, there hide three containers I am secretly reserving for when the right time comes: cold weather, maybe a rainy day combined with a bad mood; one of those days that requires the ultimate comfort food.
Before my mother left, I asked her to make me, not the customary mushroom lasagna or tortellini, but as much pasta e fagioli as she could muster. And she obliged, knowing full well that is my comfort food of choice, one that I am happy to eat in 90 degree Summer, at room temperature.
In the classic tradition of “cucina povera”, pasta e fagioli, the humble bean soup, is a standout, and every region has a variation on the same theme. In these foodie days, fancy Italian restaurants mention it in the same breath as heirloom beans and nutty olive oil but, really, it’s peasant food through and through, that hasn’t changed in centuries.
As I move away from meat more and more, I try to stay conscious of how much protein I consume and, while I know beans are a good source of protein, I can’t say I love them unreservedly – often they become an afterthought in a salad or a soup but they are never the main attraction. Save for this simple dish.
Soon, I will be back in my mother’s kitchen, pottering about in her little space filled with familiar utensils: the glass tea-pot, the brass sauce pans, the ancient knives, marveling anew how she can produce so much food in such a tiny room. Some things never change. Just like the taste of this soup.
2 C Dried Cranberry beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 link of bacon or pancetta, chopped
3 T Parsley, chopped
1 Garlic Clove, minced
3/4 of a can of tomatoes (or 4 or 5 fresh ones when in season)
1 sprig Rosemary
4 T Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 C Short pasta or handmade egg pasta, roughly cut
- Cook the beans in plenty of water (enough to cover the beans) with the carrot, rosemary and salt. Bring the water to boil then let simmer until the beans are tender (about 1 hour). Drain the beans and keep the broth (discard the carrot and rosemary).
- In the meantime, in a large sauce pan over medium heat, add the bacon and let cook until most of the fat has melted. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, garlic and parsley and let cook for a couple of minutes more (make sure not to cook the parsley). Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper and let cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
- Add the cooked beans, and some of the reserved bean broth and let the flavors steep over low heat for a few minutes. Let cool and then blend until pureed. Add some more of the broth if the soup is too thick. If you like, you can reserve some of the beans and add them whole to the puree for a prettier presentation.
- Put the soup in a large pot, reheat and cook some short pasta in it. Home made pasta would be better but any short shape, that cooks fairly quickly, will do. Serve with some good extra-virgin olive oil drizzled on top.
- If you are keeping the soup in the refrigerator for a couple of days, keep the bean broth too and adjust the consistency when re-heating.
Image from the Italian blog la pasta e fagioli (if you can read Italian).