2020 has definitely tested many of us. The world has turned on its head and many of us are trying to adjust the best way possible. There are a number of things that I do to keep my energy and head clear. Keeping a tidy house, talking to friends on the phone and wearing my favourite lipstick daily are just a few. However, I do tend to preach the importance of cooking and eating well. Delicious, sexy, healthy meals keep your mind and body in check while tantalising your taste buds. It all helps with dealing with our new daily obstacles.
If there is one food that I can always rely on to give me the comfort that I need, it’s pasta. So when it came to choosing a particular dish for ‘World Pasta Day’ there was one recipe that came to the forefront of my mind that is perfect for these self-isolating days; ‘Pasta e fagioli‘. In English, it translates to ‘pasta and beans’. With the addition of other humble ingredients, it’s a true representation of ‘cucina povera‘ – Italian peasant cooking. Regional cooking is so prominent in Italy, however, this is one of the few recipes that is enjoyed all over the country. It truly is loved by many. Enjoying this dish here in the UK is not a problem as all ingredients can be found at any local supermarket. However, trust me when I say that this dish will bring you much comfort during these colder, darker evenings soon to come.
When it comes to my pasta of choice, it’s not only important that you select the perfect shape, (for this recipe, I am using farfalline, baby bows) but it’s equally important to use a pasta brand that will give you the perfect ‘al dente’ bite. For me that is Garofalo.
I have a long history with Garofalo, as I used to sell it on my Italian food stall years ago. Made in Gragnano, a city in the province of Naples, it’s better known as the ‘city of pasta‘. The pasta produced here is of such a high standard that even the European Commission has given it an IGP status (guarantee of origin for foods produced in specific areas; Italy).
Using only the best quality semolina flour, their pasta has a high protein content, which helps retain starch, hold its shape and give that perfect ‘al dente’ texture that we should all be looking for. Secondly, Garofalo pasta is bronze-died, which gives the pasta a rough, porous surface making it perfect for sauces to bind and cling to. So when it comes to enjoying this hearty pasta soup, it absolutely up levels your experience.
Below are some key ingredients to consider when making this wonderful pasta e fagioli, followed by my version below. Happy cooking and stay safe.
The foundation of this recipe is made up of a delicate flavoursome ‘soffrito’ which means softly fried vegetables. Traditionally, a soffrito is made up of finely chopped onion, celery and carrot. You could even use leeks and fennel as alternatives. The softening of these vegetables are key to this recipe. The liquid that they release at the beginning creates a wonderful flavour base which then you build on with the other ingredients.
I then like to add a selection of Italian dry herbs which when added to the softened vegetables creates a wonderful aroma.
The addition of pork fat gives the dish a lovely salty smoky flavour which is balanced beautifully with the sweetness of the vegetables. There are a number of ingredients that you can use, such as pancetta, bacon, parma ham or sausage meat. Though not Italian, you could also add in smoky chorizo.
I like to finish the soffrito base with a little wine to help intensify that base flavour.
When it comes to choosing your pulses, you have a number of options. Borlotti, cannellini, butter beans and even chickpeas, can be used. Or why not a mixture. I prefer to use tinned pulses as there are convenient and easy to store in your pantry. Dry pulses are also fantastic. They do tend to have more of a bite. But, you must consider that they do take longer to prepare with soaking overnight and cooking in water for a couple of hours. However, leftover bean cooking water is a great delicious bonus to the stew. But like I said before, tinned pulses are great too.
When choosing the pasta for this dish. I like to use small pasta. I prefer it to be the same size as the pulses I am using, making it easier to eat with a spoon. If you don’t have baby pasta, then you can break up spaghetti, linguine or any on long pasta into matchsticks.
pasta e fagioli
Paste e fagioli' – pasta and beans
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery, finely chopped
1/2 tsp dry italian herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary)
70g pancetta, diced (or bacon, parma ham or sausage meat)
1/2 glass of white wine
1 tin of borlotti, or cannellini, or butter beans, or chickpeas
1 tin of peeled tomatoes, or 250g of cherry tomatoes, halved
500ml veg/chicken stock
100g cavolo nero, kale or spinach, chopped
125g Garofalo farfalline or any other baby pasta
Grated parmensan, to serve
pasta e fagioli
- Drizzle generously extra virgin olive oil into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. With a wooden spoon make sure the veg is evenly coated in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Keep stirring and gently soften the veg on a medium/low heat for 5 minutes.
- Next, sprinkle in the dry herbs, stir, coat and cook for another 5 minutes. Make sure you keep stirring so that the vegetables don’t brown.
- Now, add in the pancetta. Once again, keep stirring and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Pour in the white wine, turn up the heat to medium and cook until the liquid has evaporated.
- Next, add the beans, tomatoes and pour in the stock. Bring that to the boil and low simmer for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the tomatoes to cook and breakdown.
- When the stew has been cooking for 30 minutes, remove a couple of ladlefuls of the stew and place into a bowl. With a potato masher or hand blender, break it down. Return it to the pan.
- Add in the cavolo nero. Give it a stir for a couple of minutes.
- Finally, add the pasta in. Cook 1 minutes less as instructed on the packet. The pasta will continue to cook after it’s removed off the heat.
- Serve in a bowl. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated parmesan. Serve immediately with crusty bread.
Ad: This recipe is a paid collaboration with Garafalo pasta.