Described by Ligurian-born chef Lucio Galletto in his book The Art of Pasta as “one of the few dishes that unify Italy,” pasta and beans (pasta e fasoi, it says in the north, pasta fazool if you’re Dean Martin). it’s “country food of the warmest, most comforting kind,” according to Russell Norman. It is also one of those recipes that has as many versions as there are cooks, and that not only differ, observes Gennaro Contaldo, from one region to another, “but also between families”.
These hearty, starchy dishes were once an important part of daily diets across Europe, as beans were easy to grow and store; in fact, the rather austere rule of Saint Benedict assigned monks a pint of beans and a pound of bread a day. and while we all have access to more exotic dishes these days, it’s hard to deny its appeal as a satisfying and inexpensive stomach filler. But if you don’t have a treasured recipe passed down from your grandmother, what’s the best way to enjoy pasta e fagioli?
Lucio Galletto’s version: one of the few dishes that unify Italy’. Felicity Cloake thumbs up.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this universally popular dish can be made with several different beans: Marcella Hazan calls borlotti, “brilliantly veined in white and pink,” the “classic” variety in her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, recommending the fresh kind. when in station. When cooked, she says, “its flavor is unlike any other bean, subtly reminiscent of chestnuts.” Outside of their summer season, dry ones, as used by Anna, one of the nonnas in the new book Pasta Grannies, and Norman in his book Polpo, are a “totally satisfying substitute.” Contaldo recommends canned in its Pasta Perfecto!, although, “if time permits”, you could use dry “if you prefer”; Galletto’s recipe, “alla montanara,” uses “large white beans, called fagioli di Spagna in Italian” and, I assume, white beans in English.
Luckily, I find fresh caramel-spotted borlotti without too much trouble, and can confirm that they’re really worth tracking down (or planting for next year): plump and nutty-flavored, they’re a far superior product to dried ones. However, as the season draws to a close, they are not the most practical recommendation. The canned ones work great, especially if you’re in a hurry (Contaldo’s recipe can be on the table in half an hour), but the dried ones are a better alternative, simply because you can flavor them however you want during cooking and use the cooking. water to make a bean broth, which we will talk about later. If using canned, loosen the water in the can with chicken or vegetable broth.
Norman cooks his beans with onion, garlic and rosemary, while nonna Anna and Galletto add carrots and celery. The spiciness of the garlic doesn’t feel quite right here for some reason, but the other greens are a great match with the earthiness of the beans, giving them a fuller, rounder flavor.
Both Hazan and Contaldo mash some of the cooked beans into the broth to thicken it, which seems like an eminently sensible idea, making the whole dish even more emphatically beany, on which note, though Galletto’s butter beans work well. We found that they lack the flavor of borlotti; even Hazan’s suggested red kidney beans would probably be a more interesting choice. So often relegated to a secondary role, beans should be the star ingredient in this dish.
Gennaro Contaldo’s fagioli recipe ‘can be on the table in half an hour’.
The infusion of the beans by itself is not enough; all the recipes I try include a sofrito, or fried onion base, often also with carrots and celery, sometimes with garlic and, in the case of Galletto, also with red chili, which is then combined with the beans and their broth. . Some, including Contaldo and Anna, add pancetta and crumbled sausage, and others, like Galletto, use prosciutto: this dish is quite delicious without meat, but if you do eat it, a little pork fat is rarely bad for the flavor. Pancetta is the easiest way to achieve this, but for a heartier soup, almost like a ragout, Anna’s sausage version is a winner among my testers. Otherwise, I’m going to keep the soffrito pretty simple by adding more onion, celery, and carrot to give the dish a breadth of texture and flavor: chili, garlic, celery leaves, etc. you.
‘Country food of the warmest, most comforting kind’: Russell Norman’s pasta e fagioli.
The tomatoes are very optional, playing no role in Contaldo’s recipe, but, simmered until they become one with the beans, they add a nice dose of umami. In fact, if you really like them, try Norman’s version, which is stirred in a rich, simmered tomato sauce to create a creamy and robust tomato and bean soup that is surely the very definition of a cockle warmer, whatever it is. in Italian.
Hazan loosens up her soup with beef broth and Contaldo with vegetables, but I stick with bean broth, so that’s the predominant flavor, rather than meat or aromatics. If you want to use broth, a neutral chicken would be my preference for omnivores.
Make it as thick or as thin as you like: According to Contaldo’s sister, Adriana, “real pasta e fagioli should have a thicker consistency,” but I’d be very surprised if there weren’t millions of Italians willing to argue the exact opposite. .
Marcella Hazan uses ‘maltagliati, or fresh egg pasta pastillas’.
Naturally, there is no consensus here either. Norman writes: “I’ve seen this done with tagliatelle, bigoli and penne, none of which look right to me. I like the pasta to be about the same size as the beans,” which means dry little macaroni. Contaldo orders fresh egg tagliatelle or pappardelle, cut into 7cm lengths, Galetto for maccheroncini, ditalini or broken spaghetti, and Hazan and Anna make their own in the form of maltagliati, or fresh egg pasta cubes, and cresc’tajat respectively .
The latter, a Le Marche specialty, is, according to the woman behind the Pasta Grannies book and project, Vicky Bennison, “a fine example of frugal cooking. Before it was made with leftover polenta and served with wild vegetables or stewed beans, which is what Anna prepared for us”. I crush the cold polenta with flour, then spread it out and cut it into a diamond shape before cooking it in boiling water. It has a satisfying solidity that we all love, and if you have any leftover polenta, I highly recommend it. the idea for you Otherwise, being a simple and frugal dish, use whatever dry pasta you have on hand; I find the slight chewiness more pleasurable with mild than fresh beans, but whatever floats your boat. I personally don’t like short spaghetti (so hard to grab), so I use Norman’s macaroni.
Galetto also uses potatoes, cooking them and the pasta in the residual heat of the broth. My potatoes are still crispy even after their allotted two hours, but I like the idea of them if you’re looking to ramp up the dish even more—some days are just three-starch days.
If you fancy it, Norman’s Rosemary Garlic Oil is a lovely hearty way to finish the dish, but for me it’s all about comfort so I’m doing like Marcella and adding a knob of butter and a sprinkling of Parmesan. And a great big spoon.
Perfect pasta e fagioli
Homework 10 minutes
Soak 8 hours
Cook 90 minutes
It serves 4
175g dried borlotti beans
2 celery sticks
1 large onion
rosemary sprig (optional)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
75 g fatty bacondiced (optional)
2 canned plum tomatoes
175 g small macaronior other dry pasta
15 g grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Soak the beans in plenty of cold water for about eight hours, then drain. Put in a large skillet with one each of the carrots and celery sticks, both halved, and half the onion.
In a pot we put the soaked borlotti beans with a carrot, a stick of celery and half an onion. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer for one hour.
Cover with cold water about 3cm, bring to a boil, then skim the top. Add the rosemary, if using, then lower the heat and cook until the beans are just tender (this should take about an hour, depending on how fresh they are). Make sure the beans are always covered with water, so top up as needed.
Towards the end of the cooking time, peel and dice the remaining onion, carrot and celery into fairly fine cubes, keeping the onion separate.
Dice and fry the remaining onion, carrot and celery in olive oil until soft and golden.
Heat the oil in a wide, high-sided skillet over medium-low heat and fry the onion until tender and golden, then add the carrot and celery, and do the same. Add the pancetta, if using, and fry until rendered fat, then add the tomatoes, breaking them up with the spoon.
Add the tomatoes, break them up with a wooden spoon.
Once the beans are cooked, remove and discard the greens and rosemary, and scoop out a ladle of beans. Mash them with some of their cooking water to make a paste, then stir them into the soup with all the whole beans and enough cooking water to make a thick soup.
Let the soup simmer while you cook the pasta in boiling salted water in another pot until al dente.
Cook the pasta, mash up some beans, and then add both to the soup with a little butter. Serve with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
Stir the drained pasta into the soup along with the butter, cover, remove from heat, and let sit for five minutes. Season to taste and serve with a sprinkle of cheese.
Pasta and Beans – Top with beans on toast for convenience, or too much of a starchy good thing? Chunky or soupy, borlotti or white beans, macaroni or spaghetti: how do you make yours and what do you season it with?