Last night my mother prepared a simple dinner: one of the quintessential Northern Italian comfort foods that exemplifies “cucina povera” (poor food), and which is the infamous soup of the Tuscan people: Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup) .
In Italy every family has their own treasured recipe for this soup and my family is no exception. You can witness this mind-boggling diversity simply from reading recipes from other blogs, Italian cookbooks, or just from searching the Web for the recipe. As the weather becomes somewhat cooler here in the South (it is 73 degrees today) and the evenings become a bit chilly the minute the sun is down, it seems just perfect to imitate the “bean lovers” (as Tuscans are called due to their love affair with the beautiful bean), by sipping this savory soup. We lovingly call this soup “Pasta Fajool” (fa-zhool)!
My parents may not have enjoyed abundance when they were growing up as children of immigrants, but their mothers kept the kitchen aromas filling their homes, as pots of soups or pasta simmered slowly on the stove. My father said they had Pasta e Fagioli soup nearly every night for dinner when my grandfather was a coal miner in the Midwest.
Nothing represents love and comfort as much as a simple, hearty warm soup and some bread to sop it up with! Although this soup was considered the food of the poor, one certainly is never hungry after one full bowl; it is that satisfying. Plus soup is so restorative to our health and our souls!
- Olive oil (to saute the vegetables) *
- 5 stalks of celery, including leaves, cleaned with thick white end cut off, and then chopped *
- ½ cup chopped carrots (optional) *
- 1 onion, chopped *
- 1 big bunch of Italian parsley, cleaned, stems cut off, and chopped *
- 4 cloves garlic minced *
- 3 quarts water
- 1 6-oz. can tomato paste (add more until your desired level of 'red' color and tomato flavor is reached)
- 2 cans red kidney beans (I prefer dark red) ~ ~ if you use fresh beans, they must be soaked in water overnight (you can also use pinto beans or a white bean variety)
- Pasta (in this case I used mini-farfalle), but often 'ditalini' pasta is used
- Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.
- Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
- Fresh, crusty, artisanal Italian bread
- * These are known as "soffrito" or the 'fried' base of a soup, which can be made ahead and frozen.
- If using dried beans, cover them completely with water in a pot and soak overnight. Drain water the next day.
- In a large, heavy 4 - 5 quart pot, saute the onion, carrots, and celery in the olive oil.
- Add the parsley and garlic and saute for one more minute.
- Fill the pot with the water.
- Add the tomato paste/ tomatoes and bring to a boil.
- Add the kidney beans, reduce the heat just slightly and cook until slightly tender.
- Bring back to a boil and add the pasta noodles and cook until al dente, about 7 minutes.
- Remove the soup from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Let stand 5 minutes.
- Serve in warmed bowls.
- Sprinkle with grated cheese.
- Serve with freshly, grated Parmigiano cheese and fresh bread.
- If you choose to do this, don't put the pasta in until the soup is re-warmed and THEN boil your pasta for 7 minutes/until al dente. If you have the pasta noodles in for a long time, they become very large from absorbing the soup liquid.