My mother used to prepare one of the most simple, yet delicious family recipes for lunch: one of the quintessential Northern Italian comfort foods that exemplifies “cucina povera” (food of the poor), and which is the infamous soup of the Tuscan people: Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup). Today, I prepare this soup in her memory and enjoy it any time of the day.
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. One Italian food blogger claims that the recipe shared there is the authentic version. I disagree completely on this position. “Authenticity” is what originated in the lineage of your family. Ingredients available to one Italian family may differ from what other families had access to . . . thus creating diversity in recipes, but still very, very ‘authentic’. Northern Italian versions of Pasta e Fagioli, for example will differ from those made further south in Italy. What is passed down through the generations of your family and that which has been prepared by your mother or Nonna is truly what is “authentic” and not what someone else says is authentic or not.
So with that little rant shared, 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)!
Ditalini is the pasta shape most often used, but as children, we also loved the fun ‘bowtie’ shape of mini-farfalle. If all you have on hand is spaghetti, just break it up into half inch pieces and you’re good to go. The shape of the pasta has no impact on the flavor of the soup. Another note about pasta: my family prefers a tiny bit more broth in our soup that is not overwhelmed with too much pasta. We love to not only slurp this delicious broth at the very end, but also dunk delicious crusty Italian bread in the last few drops at the bottom of the bowl. That’s just our preference, so add more pasta if you want less broth. This soup is also healthier with less calories than it is with too much pasta.
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. I remember my father telling me that he 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!
Here is my family’s recipe for Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup):
2 cans cannellini beans t(hat were unavailable to my grandparents in the U.S., so they substituted red kidney beans that give the soup a much richer flavor
Enjoy this recipe for Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup)