Pasta e Fagioli

Sleet is defined as a semi-crystalline combination of snow and rain that – while distinguishing itself from ice pellets (little droplets of ice that fall to earth like many thousands of aquatic meteorites) or freezing rain (liquid rain so cold that it crystallizes into ice once making contact with the ground) – holds a hallowed place in the Hall of Miserable Precipitation as the worst thing to get trapped in on the commute home. After drying myself of the damp, freezing water that had managed, in my 40 second sprint from the car to the door of my building, to adhere itself to each and every exposed square centimeter of the skin on my hands and face, and then seep its way under my coat and through the cotton protection of my pants; I decided I needed a dish that would wholly counteract the frigid effects of sleet. An “anti-sleet” if you will; a warm, semi-solid stew administered via heaping gulps of rich, tomato broth and fortifying hand cut noodles, spotted here and there with the winking pupils of black-eyed peas. This is my take on Pasta e Fagioli and, whether you find yourself pursued by freezing rain or no, it’s damn delicious.    

Prep Time: 20-30 minutes, with added soak time if using dried beans
Cook Time: 1 hour

This recipe will make enough for 6 big bowls

For the Pasta:

2 Eggs

200 grams (1 and 2/3 cups) Flour

For the Lot:

1 large Onion

2 stalks Celery

3 cloves Garlic

1 1/2 cooked Black Beans and Black-Eyed Peas, each (1/2 cup dried beans)

5 Roma Tomatoes or 3/4 cup Sun-dried Tomatoes  

28 ounce can Whole, Plum Tomatoes

2 pints Stock

1 tablespoon dried Oregano

2 tablespoons Butter

1 cup Giardiniera, diced (optional)

Parmesan (for garnish, optional)

The Pasta: 

I would, as always, highly recommend making your own pasta. Particularly with a dish like this, the fresh egg noodles will provide an incomparable homey oomph that is missing from box pasta. You can see an in-depth on pasta here at my recipe for Pasta Carbonara. 

If you end up buying box pasta, get something strong and bite-sized, something that will hold its shape in the stew and have nooks and crannies perfect for picking up sauce and pieces of everything else in the mix. Don’t use long pasta (spaghetti, linguine) or else you’ll end up pulling the pasta out of the stew and having to go back for the rest. Buy a macaroni, penne, or farfalle – something that will fit on a spoon. 

If you end up making your own pasta and you would like to try making farfalle, the process is exactly the same up the point where you cut the sheets. Cut the pasta sheets into 1/2 or 1 inch squares. The pasta will expand as you cook it, so cut your uncooked shapes a little smaller than you think they should be. Using thumb and forefinger, pinch 2 opposite sides of the pasta square toward each other until it looks like a farfalle (“butterfly” in Italian) or bow-tie. Then lightly press down on the center of the pinch, and set aside on a rack or screen to dry while you shape the rest of your pasta. The longer you let them dry (you want to make sure there isn’t too much overlap, otherwise they might stick together) the better they will hold shape once cooked. I let mine dry for 15-20 minutes (not very long) and was rewarded with a few flat squares of noodle here and there among the farfalle. They were still delicious, but if I was presenting this dish and wanted to impress, I would dry the pasta a while longer. 

If you happen to have a ridged pasta cutter (‘bicicleta’ in Italian), as some people do – this is the kind of tool that tends to appear in kitchen drawers without the cook noticing or having ever considered purchasing one – you would first use a straight blade to cut the pasta in one direction and then use the ridged bicicleta in the other direction. Then pinch the 2 flat sides together. This will yield the classic “pointy-at-either-end” bow-ties we’re all used to seeing.

The Lot:

  1. If you are using canned beans, rinse them under cold water and leave to dry. You want the flavor of the beans to come through cleanly, and so you want to make sure as much of the residue from the bean-can water (mmm bean water. Delicious!) has been removed. If you are using dry beans, follow the preparation instructions on the bag and have them cooked or almost done cooking before you start. You may choose to soak overnight, and beans can take a long time to cook, so keep this in mind before preparing the rest of the dish. Even though I occasionally still mess up my beans when I cook them from dry (the final time making this dish, I cooked them for about 30 minutes to an hour too long) I much prefer the flavor of dried beans than canned. 
  2. Melt the butter in a tablespoon or two of neutral oil at medium high heat in the base of a large pot or dutch oven. Dice the onion and celery stalks and add once the oil is hot. Fry for 1-2 minutes until fragrant, then cut the heat down to medium and add in the dried oregano.  Finely mince the garlic and add in as well. It’s best to hold off on the garlic until this point so as to not burn it. 
  3. Saute till soft and translucent (10 minutes on medium heat) then add the canned tomatoes. If you want a smoother texture, puree the tomatoes before adding them in. They will break down in the long cooking process, but not as much as if you had pureed them. Try not to use pre-pureed canned tomatoes, they carry more of a metallic flavor and have less tomato and more tomato juice and pulp (e.g. you’re not getting as much tomato as you should). Turn the heat down again to medium, add a hefty pinch of pepper, cover with a lid (if possible, if not, just keep an eye on viscosity and add water if it starts to dry) and let simmer for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  4. Quarter the tomatoes and set them, skin side down, on a lightly oiled pan. Roast at 450 till slightly blackened and desiccated. You want to just toe the line with burning them. As the tomatoes dry and roast, they develop a sweetness and concentrated tomato flavor that is out of this world. You can, if you like, substitute the roasted tomatoes with sun dried tomatoes – the taste will be similar, but the texture won’t be as good. If you use sun-dried, divide them until they are not larger than a quarter, and add them to the sauce at the same time as the pureed tomatoes so they have time to partially re-hydrate.  Either way, the final effect in the stew is fantastic. Chunks of roasted, meaty tomatoes – V8 hued flavor bombs. 
  5. After the tomato sauce has cooked down (the longer, the better) add the stock and bring to a boil. You may, if it seems too thick, need to add additional water – just do so a half a cup at a time so as to control the flavor. Add pasta and cook till soft 5-10 minutes with fresh pasta 10-15 minutes with boxed pasta. When you judge the pasta to be halfway cooked, go in with the beans, the giardiniera, and (if you didn’t use sun-dried tomatoes earlier) your roasted tomatoes. The giardiniera is optional; giardiniera is a fermented Italian relish and I just made my first batch of it. I’ve been experimenting with dishes, trying to pair it with other foods. It’s an interesting and delicious ingredient, and if you can find a tasty one out of a jar, I’d add it to this dish. The 2 biggest components you’ll notice are the pickled bell peppers and cauliflower in it, they bring a tangy freshness and satisfying crunch to this dish. Alternatively, you could add any fresh and finely diced vegetables at this point. Mushrooms would work wonderfully. They’ll soak in just enough flavor of the dish without getting soft (same as the beans) and provide a pop of crunch and freshness throughout the stew. 
  6. Once the pasta has finished, cut off the heat. Taste and add salt – since we’ve been reducing, refilling, and reducing again, you’ll want to wait to the very end to add the salt. You may need a fair amount, don’t worry, just keep tasting. Serve with some Parmesan over the top and enjoy!

This was the most fun I’ve had writing up one of these recipes in the last string of them. Partly because it was a dish I haven’t eaten a crazy amount of, yet seemed comfortingly familiar (it’s like a funky cross between chili and minestrone). Partly because it’s getting cold outside and every time I see a big pot bubbling on the stove I get excited. And partly because everything kind of went wrong when I went to make the dish the final time (see above, “sleet”), the pasta dough was a little dry and hard to work with, I overcooked the tomatoes and the beans, and was making bread at the same time so my kitchen is a flour disaster zone; and yet, this was (as previously stated) damn delicious. 

Fun Fact! A group of butterflies is called a “kaleidoscope.” In Italian “un caleidoscopio,” so all together “un caleidoscopio di farfalle” 

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