Craving something that is both hearty and inexpensive? Packed with flavor too? Look no further than the hearty stew of Pasta e Fagioli - an Italian classic that may as well be it's national dish as it is served far and wide amongst the boot shaped nation. There are no real set rules for Pasta e Fagioli - other than it should contain pasta and beans. It may be a free for all on ingredients that are at hand and may change from season to season, region to region.
The pasta used is typically Ditalini, or as I like to call it "Macaroni interrupted", as the little rounds appeared to have suffered the cut of an impatient Pastaio. The name Ditalini literally means small thimble as they do look somewhat like a small thimble. I think they look more like a small roller skate wheel, but box making companies would complain about having to print ruota pattino piccolo rullo on such small boxes. Oh, bother. While Ditalini is typical, any hand cut pasta will suffice, so long as it can hold up to the cooking process.
The legumes used in Pasta e Fagioli may also be varied. Phaseolus vulgaris or "The common bean", which arrived in Europe from the Americas in the 1530s along with other crops such as tomatoes and pepper, is the basis of pasta and beans - although in typical fashion any bean may be substituted. Lovely Lupini beans, kidney beans, black beans, pink beans, pinto beans (a hermit certified favorite) -ANY BEANS may be used. And I'm quite a fan of beans - I have at least 8 varieties of dried or canned legumes in my pantry on any given day.
The benefits of eating pasta and beans consist, in addition to the good taste, also of the sense of filling given by the fibers and poverty of fats. Legumes have always been known as "the poor man's meat" and in fact in the past centuries have fed entire populations.
Legumes joined to cereals have little effect on blood sugar after a meal, having a low glycemic index, so a good dish of pasta and beans can be recommended to everyone.
So, this recipe idea came to me via a breeze shooting spell betwixt myself and a work associate. I had planned to make sweet Italian sausage (Salsiccia Siciliana; see picture) over the weekend and I don't necessarily stuff it all into casings, so I knew I would have some bulk sausage left over. I also had made 5 quarts of chicken stock, had pasta to use up, garlic, onions, celery, carrots, tomatoes... it took very little rumination. No need to stew over stew, just a need to insert and chew. Plus, we have a cold snap coming and what better to cozy up than with a hot bowl of beans, a movie and a loved one?
- 1 pound bulk sweet sausage
- 1 Tbsp EVOO
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, destrung and diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp each of dried herbs; Basil, Oregano and Thyme
- (or 1 Tbsp Italian herb blend)
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
- 1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, partially drained DO NOT RINSE!
- 1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, partially drained DO NOT RINSE!
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Some chopped fresh parsley
- 1 Cup dry Ditalini cooked in salted water (yields about 3 cups cooked)
- 1 Tbsp EVOO
- Cook pasta to al dente, about 10 minutes. Strain, shock in cold water, drain again and toss with EVOO, set aside.
Place a large stock pot over high heat and break up sweet sausage into pieces, placing each piece in pot to sear a bit. Use a wire type masher to break sausage up into smaller pieces. Cook until no longer pink and then pour meat into a colander to drain, set aside. Pour EVOO into pot and add the chopped vegetables and minced garlic. Saute over medium heat for about 6 minutes, or until onions get soft and being careful not to scorch the garlic. Add the herbs and hot pepper flakes and pour in the chicken stock. Increase heat to high and boil for 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste from the can, then three subsequent cans of water and stir into the broth until smooth. Add the diced tomatoes, all the beans with their remaining liquor and the sausage. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes stirring occasionally until slightly thickened, then add cooked Ditalini and fresh parsley. Serve.
Now you can eat this straight up from a bowl or pour it over polenta, mashed potatoes, bread stuffing or whatever you desire. Cover it with cheese if you want - it's your world. I had mine in a bowl with a sprinkle of Romano cheese and a glass of Cabernet.
The aroma of Anise from the ground fennel seeds in the sausage had filled the house, along with the savory herbs and pungent garlic. The same smells emanate from my cucchiaio (spoon) as I lift a hefty mouthful to my muzzle. Warming and spicy, a completely satisfying texture and ensemble hitting all the right notes. So hearty, that I could not finish my bowl - a rare event for my wiry self. I found myself looking forward to the left overs.
If you haven't thought of something to make this week, why not give Pasta e Fagioli a go, then come back here and dish about it? I'd love to read about your take on this Culinary Cauldron.