serves: Makes about 4 quarts
Known as pasta fazool in the Italian American community, this is the cornerstone of Italian soup-making. This recipe traveled easily from Italy along with the early immigrants. Beans and the other ingredients were easy to find, and the technique they used was just like back home. An inexpensive, nutritious soup, it cooked by itself while the woman of the house did her chores. Some options to vary this soup would be to purée part or all of the beans they have been cooked, and before you add the pasta. This is the version kids love, and it is also used in restaurants for a seemingly elegant touch, although I like to bite into my beans. I also substitute rice or barley for the pasts, a common practice in the north of Italy, where rice is abundant.
1 pound dried cannelini beans
4 ounces bacon
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Needles from 1 sprig fresh rosemary, (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 pounds russet potatoes (about 6-8 potatoes), peeled
2 fresh bay leaves
6 quarts cold water
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 pound ditalini pasta
freshly ground black pepper
grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
Soak the cannellini beans overnight and drain.
Pulse the bacon, garlic, and rosemary in a mini-food processor to make a fine textured paste or ‘pestata’.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the pestata, and cook until bacon has rendered its fat, about 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, make the second pestata (you don’t have to wash the processor) by puréeing the onion and carrot. Add the second pestata to the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has dried out and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes.
Scrape the pestata to one side of the pan to clear a “hot spot,” add the tomato paste, and let cook for a few minutes, until lightly toasted. Stir the tomato paste into the pestata, and add the drained beans, the potatoes, and the bay leaves. Pour in the water. Bring the soup to a boil, cover, and let cook at a strong simmer until beans and potatoes are tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes, uncovering to reduce liquid about halfway through the cooking time. Stir in salt.
With a large wooden spoon, mash the remaining potatoes against the side of the pot to thicken the soup. Return soup to a boil, add the ditalini, and cook until pasta is al dente. Season to taste.
Serve soup with a drizzle of olive oil and some grated cheese