Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli, which translates to “pasta and beans” in Italian, is a simple and traditional dish that varies based on the region or town it is prepared. A great symbol of the Venetian cuisine is the humble bean and this particular dish (and the more famous dish risotto), are at the gastronomic base of the Veneto region.

 

This wonderfully thick soup of beans and pasta is described as “cucina povera” (poor kitchen), due to it being prepared with very inexpensive and few ingredients. But when talking to my nonna as we were cooking it together, “cucina povera” was not a term she used at the time when she first learnt to make it, and is not a term she uses for it today. My nonna simply knew it as family dish, one that she learnt from her own mother and would sometimes be tasked to prepare for lunch for her brother and father if her mother had to go out, ‘fare un compito’.

 

Pasta e Fagioli reminds me of my childhood. The scent of it simmering away on the stove top takes me back to sitting around the family table in the cooler months, waiting for the soup to be ladled into my bowl and then generously kissed with olive oil.

 

It may not look like much, but this traditional dish is rich in flavour and incredibly satisfying. This is my nonna Alba’s recipe. The recipe serve 4-5 but double the quantities to make a larger batch that can be easily frozen. If you would like to keep it vegetarian simply omit the pancetta and choose vegetable stock, but there is nothing like the depth of flavour such little pancetta brings to this dish. And if don’t want to upset my nonna (and all Venetians), only use dried beans for this dish, not pre-cooked beans from a can!

Ingredients

  • 250 g (dried) Borlotti Beans

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 garlic clove, chopped

  • 1 brown onion, chopped

  • Pancetta, roughly diced (about the amount of a small handful)

  • 1 large celery stick, finely chopped

  • Bunch of parsley stalks, chopped (keep leaves for later)

  • Salt and pepper, to taste

  • 100 ml (or a ladle) of chicken or veg stock

  • Small bunch of fresh rosemary and oregano, tied together with string

  • 1 large brushed potato, cut into 3cm chunks

  • 2 litres of boiling water

  • 100 g tagliatelle or pappardelle, broken into pieces.

  • Grated parmigiano-reggiano, to serve

Method

  • Soak the borlotti beans in room temperature water overnight. Drain and discard water when ready to use.

  • Heat 2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a medium to large pot on medium heat.

  • Add the onion and garlic and sweat for a few minutes, careful not to brown.

  • Add the pancetta and sweat for a further 2 minutes, then add the celery, parsley stalks and cook until softened, stirring occasionally.

  • Season with salt and pepper and add a ladle of stock (or boiling water) and stir. 

  • Add the drained beans, tied herbs and roughly 2 litres (or enough to cover and more) of boiling water.

  • Stir, then cover loosely with a lid and leave to simmer on a low heat for an hour.

  • Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a saucepan with enough water to cover and slowly bring to a boil.

  • Once the potatoes are soft, drain and mash them adding a spoonful of olive oil.

  • Once the beans have been simmering for an hour, add the mashed potato and incorporate well so that the potato disappears into the soup, then start to break up some of the beans with the back of a spoon to make the soup creamier and thicker.

  • Add the pasta and cook until al dente (note: the pasta will continue to cook/soften in the soup) Depending on how thick you like your soup, add a splash of boiling water to loosen if need be.

Serve hot, topped with parmigiano-reggiano, parsley leaves and most importantly, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

 

Soup can be stored in air-tight containers for up to 2 days in the fridge or simply store in the freezer.