Serves 12 (makes 5 ½ quarts)
Whether you are Italian or not, you have certainly heard of pasta fazool—every region of Italy (and there are twenty) make their version of Pasta e Fagioli, and I would venture to say that every Italian American household has cooked Pasta e Fagioli at one time or other. That being said, this soup has the credentials to be the representative dish of the Italian cuisine. It’s one you must try.
- 1 pound dried cannellini (white kidney) beans
- 6 quarts water
- 3 large Idaho potatoes (about 1 ¾ pounds), peeled
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 fresh or 3 dried bay leaves
- 12 slices bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch strips (about 1 cup)
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the soup
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely shredded (about 1 cup)
- 2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), crushed with their liquid
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- One pound ditalini or 3 cups elbow pasta
- Freshly grated Grana Padano cheese
Cold–soak the beans in advance: Dump the beans into a 2- to 3-quart container and pour in enough cold water to cover them by at least 4 inches. Let soak in a cool place at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain well.
Pour 6 quarts water into a tall, large (at least 10-quart) pot. Add the drained beans, potatoes, rosemary and bay leaves. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, then adjust the heat to a gentle boil. Let cook while preparing the sautéed vegetables.
Process the bacon and garlic to a paste in a food processor, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then scrape in the bacon-garlic paste and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the onions and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the carrots and cook until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Pour two ladlefuls of the bean-cooking water into the skillet and bring to a boil, then pour the contents of the skillet back into the soup pot. Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring to a slow boil. Cook until the beans are tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Ladle about one third of the beans, along with enough cooking liquid to cover them, into a baking dish or other shallow container where they will cool quickly. Let the beans until no longer steaming. (Wait until the beans cool completely before blending or processing; hot beans can cause splatters. If you must, you can stir the beans a bit to speed up the cooling process.) Process the beans and liquid in a food processor or blender until creamy. Return the pureed beans to the pot.
Fish out the potatoes to a plate, mash them coarsely with a fork, and return them to the pot. Cook the soup another 10 minutes to give the flavors a chance to blend. Let the soup rest off the heat, covered, 10 to 15 minutes.
While the soup is resting, cook the ditalini or elbow pasta in salted water until very al dente. Drain thoroughly and stir into the soup. Let all rest for 5 minutes, then serve in warm soup bowls, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Grana Padano.