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Tis the season for soup! A friend of mine posted a recipe for Pasta e Fagioli from Bon Appetit recently, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It translates literally to Pasta & Beans in Italian. While it may sound fancy to the peoples of the West, it’s known in Italy as a peasant dish, made out of inexpensive ingredients. Delightfully, it yields a dish that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Transcendent even. Off we go.
For this recipe, it really is imperative that you start the beans from their dried form, as we are going to impart so much flavor in the process. Cannellini beans are ideal, but if you can’t find them, white navy beans, great northern beans, or any medium white bean will do!
Make sure you soak the beans prior to pressure cooking them, as they will take far less time, with the added benefit of using less energy. Soaking them also helps remove naturally occurring lectins (are a family of proteins found mostly in grains and legumes), which can help aid digestion.1
The second reason to pressure cook the beans, as I mentioned above, is to impart incredible amounts of flavor to the beans before you add them to the soup. The classic aromatics, carrot, celery, and garlic are present, with the bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme handling the herbaceous aspect. The chiles de arbol in the mix adds a deep, shadowy spice that tickles the back of the throat, spoonful by spoonful. Not present at first, but does a little sneak-up behind you just to let you know it’s there.
The base is a simple, starting with a standard sautéd medium onion in olive oil. San Marzano peeled, canned tomatoes were used in this recipe, but if you have regular whole peeled tomatoes, or even crushed or diced tomatoes, this would work. The texture of the hand-ripped tomatoes does lend a rustic feel to the soup.
The beans relieved of their flavor-imparting veggies and herbs, get added to the tomato mixture along with the vegetable stock, vinegar, salt and pepper. We’ve got some good traits going for this soup that hit the following notes: sweet tomatoes, sour vinegar, pungent onions/garlic, bitter pepper & chiles, salt from the cheese that eventually graces the tops of bowls. The 6 flavors that elevate dishes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, earthy. The pasta gets added later once we’re boiling, and it’s time to start setting the table, because this delightful soup is almost done.
Add spinach to wilt, scoop into bowls, topping with coarse or finely grated vegan Parmesan (Violife makes a great one), extra cracked pepper, and chile flake if you so choose.
I’ve now made this soup three times, and I’m eager to eat it every single time. I completely crave it! I’d even go so far as to say that doubling the recipe is a great idea. You could either freeze it, or serve a party with it. It’s nice and cozy for these cold and snowy nights (at least on the east coast), and if you pair it with a piece of beautifully buttered garlic toast: heaven.
Pasta e Fagioli
- Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot
- 1 Cup Dry Great Northern or Cannellini Beans
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 2 Stalks Celery halved
- 2 Whole Carrots split
- 3 Whole Chiles de Árbol
- 6 Sprigs Thyme
- 1 Sprig Rosemary
- 6 Cloves Garlic
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil extra virgin
- 1 Medium Onion diced
- 32 Ounce Can Organic Whole Peeled Tomatoes
- 1 Tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
- 1 Teaspoon Salt
- ½ Teaspoon Pepper freshly cracked
- 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
- 3 Cups Spinach fresh & chopped, loosely packed (1/2 Bunch, stemmed)
- ½ Cup Small Pasta Shells
- 2 Ounces Violife Parmesan Cheese
- Soak the beans: place the beans in a vessel, and cover with 3-4 cups of water, and soak for 5 hours or overnight. If soaking overnight, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If soaking for 5 hours, the countertop should suffice.
- Cook the beans: Place beans in a pressure cooker, ensuring that they are completely submerged with water. That should be about 3-3½ cups. Add in the bay leaves, celery, carrots, chiles de Árbol, thyme sprigs, rosemary sprigs, and garlic. Bring your pressure cooker up to pressure over high heat. Once pressure is achieved, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 12 minutes. Once the time is up, turn off the heat, and let the pressure release naturally.
- Saute the onions and tomatoes: Heat a saute pan over medium heat, and add the olive oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add in the onions, and cook until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add in the whole tomatoes, crushing them, and separating them with your hands as you add them to the pan with the onions. Stir, cooking the liquid off, until most of the tomato liquid has evaporated, but the tomato flesh is not yet sticking to the pan.
- Prepare the cooked beans: Once the pressure has naturally released from your pressure cooker, remove the lid carefully, tilting the lid away from you and allowing the condensation to fall back into the pot. Remove the carrot, bay leaves, celery, chiles, and herb sprigs, leaving the garlic.
- Finish the soup: Add the vinegar, salt and pepper to the tomato mixture and mix to combine. Then add the beans along with their liquid, and vegetable stock. Turn the heat up to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Add in the pasta and spinach, cooking for about 5-8 minutes, or until the shells are tender. Divide into 4 bowls, and top with grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with garlic bread if desired.