In Italy, beans are used in a variety of ways–salads, mashed on bread or bruschetta with olive oil drizzled on top, in soups and stews. A side dish (contorno) of beans is often served with any main dish, especially meats. Beans (fagioli) are an important and valued food staple around the world. In Italy, a few of the most popular are fava, lentils, cannellini and borlotti. Using borlotti, one of my favorite bean dishes is pasta fagioli (fazool).
Beans are an inexpensive healthy source of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals that are filling and comforting. Borlotti beans are one of the healthiest of beans because of its high iron content. They also create a creamy base to any recipe.
Each bean variety packs a unique punch of flavor and texture. As with any crop, soil and weather transforms the flavor, so buy tasty beans.
The recipe I use (however mine is meatless) is from Dominica Marchetti’s The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy.
Pasta Fagioli Recipe:
2 C. dried borlotti (cranberry) beans, soaked overnight in water to cover
3 oz. pancetta, finely minced (I do no use as I don’t eat red meat or pork)
1 small rib of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
1 yellow onion finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 Tbl minced fresh rosemary
1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil
8 C water (2 quarts)
Kosher or sea salt
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
8 oz dried fettuccine or spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces (can use trofie, ditalini, elbows, bow ties (farfalle) etc.
Extra-virgin olive oil, best quality
Drain beans after soaking beans. Place in dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with a lid and add the pancetta (if used), celery, and onion. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic and rosemary to form a paste and add the paste to the pot. Drizzle in the 1/2 cup olive oil and stir to combine the contents of the pot thoroughly. Pour in the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer for about 2 hours, or until the beans are very tender. Remove from the heat and let the soup cool for 15 minutes or so.
In a blender, purée half the soup until smooth and then return it to the pot and stir well. Season the soup to taste with salt, add the red pepper flakes, and then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir the pasta into the beans and cook at a gentle simmer (reduce the heat to medium if necessary) for about 20 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.
Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and drizzle each serving with your best olive oil.
I have found that I end up adding a lot more water to the recipe and have to cook the beans up to 4 hours, not two. Just keep checking until the beans are very tender. Since I do not use the pancetta, I often use a cup or two of vegetable or chicken broth for flavor enhancement. Add enough red pepper flakes to give a little kick. Serve with crisp green salad.
As in any recipe, use the best quality ingredients, and your finished dish will be the best!
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