Pasta e Fagioli
I didn’t intend to make my second post another pasta dish, and I promise that I won’t only be focusing on pasta in this blog, but my husband and I recently made pasta e fagioli with fresh spollichini beans that we found at our green grocer.
Pasta e Fagioli was a fantastic discovery of Italian comfort food when I was living with a host family in Basilicata at the age of 16. Pasta and beans coagulating into a heaping mess of yum, with hot pepper oil turning your mouth on fire and warming your belly, mmmm. I have not become a pro at making it yet, often adding too much pasta or too much liquid. I think that this is a classic case of practice makes perfect, but I’m still trying!
Pasta e Fagioli
Adapted from Naples at Table, Cooking in Campania by Arthur Schwartz which is the best English cookbook of Neapolitan cuisine, tears welled up in my Neapolitan husband’s eyes when he read the recipes inside.
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large cloves of garlic, left whole
- 1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes, you can use one whole fresh hot pepper if you have it
- 3 canned and peeled plum tomatoes, you can also use fresh pachino tomatoes, but they need to be very ripe
- ½ tsp salt
- 2½ to 3 cups coke cannellini beans, with enough liquid to barely cover them
- 6 ounces of pasta mista (take all of the pasta that you have leftover in its package and mix it up)
- hot pepper oil*
In a large saucepan or stovetop casserole, combine the olive oil, the garlic, and the hot pepper flakes over medium-low heat. Let the garlic sizzle gently in the oil. We also used a few slices of pancetta to add a smoky flavor, but it is equally delicious without.
As soon as the garlic begins to color, squish the tomatoes in your hand directly into the pot (in this case we used fresh pachino tomatoes because we had them).
Add salt, and with a wooden spoon, crush or break up the larger pieces of tomato. Increase the heat slightly and sizzle the tomato in the oil for about 5 minutes, stirring once or twice.
Stir in the beans and their liquid. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, then adjust the heat so the beans simmer gently for 5 minutes. This is to let the beans absorb the flavor of the sauce and cook a little further.
Arthur Schwartz’s recipe suggests to cook the pasta separately, but every Italian who has ever made pasta a fagioli for me has always cooked the pasta with the beans.
Add about a quarter of a gallon of water to the pot, bring it to a boil and add the pasta. You don’t want to add too much water because the pasta needs to absorb the water and not end up soupy. You’re not aiming for an al dente pasta, but for your pasta to be slightly overcooked and since the types of pasta are all different they will all have different cooking times. When the pasta is done and there isn’t a lot of liquid left remove from the heat and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
Make hot pepper oil available on the table as well as some good extra virgin olive oil for people to drizzle on their pasta.
*hot pepper oil is a great thing to keep around the house. You need a about a tbsp of hot pepper flakes and about a cup of good olive oil. Combine the two in small jar, seal and leave it in your pantry for at least two weeks for the oil to gain heat.