In the US, this hearty dish is often called Pasta Fazool - indeed, one of my favourite singers/musicians, Ray Gelato (who also loves to cook!) mentions it in the song, That's Amore (as did Dean Martin, of course)! As far as I know, 'fazool' is an Americanisation of the dialect for bean, 'fasul' (Napoli) or fasulu (Sicilia)... so when Ray (or Dino) sings...
"When the stars make you drool, just like Pasta Fazool,
...you'll now know what he is on about! In fact, Ray also references it in his song, A Pizza You, which is the intro music for his cooking show!
Like so much of cucina povera, this recipe has as many variations as there are villages in Italia! While essentially a vegetarian dish, I have known people who add leftover cuts of meat, or the sugo left from the previous night's meal (I do this myself on occasion!). Some people swear by using broth only, while others like it more tomato-based. Although there is a basic premise (it has to have pasta and beans!) there is no one right way of making this dish; use what you have, be it leftover meat (bacon or boiled ham works very well), tomato sauce, etc.
About the pasta - while I have suggested specific types, really, you can use whatever you have; this is a great way of using up all those little bits of broken lasagne, spaghetti etc., or the odd few grams of fusili or penne etc. that we all have lurking in the cupboard!
So...put on some appropriate music, and let's get cooking!
Approximate nutritional values per serving:
(Please note that these are based on the ingredients I use - your own may be slightly different)
For approximately four people:
1 tbsp good olive oil
4 chopped sticks of celery
2 chopped carrots
1 large chopped onion
4 large crushed cloves garlic
1 sprig rosemary
4 bay leaves
1.5 litres vegetable stock - you can use a stock cube if you like, but if you have your own stock, you can use that. This amount is approximate – I generally just use enough stock, so this is a ‘best guess’ kind of thing! Use your own judgement!
1 can Borlotti beans - drained and rinsed (you can use fresh or dried but really, a can is much easier. You could use cannellini beans instead.)
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1 ripe plum tomato, quartered - or a handful of halved cherry/baby plum tomatoes
A few leaves of dark cabbage, such as cavolo nero (my favourite) or savoy - roughly torn
150g mixed dry short pasta (ditalini, gomiti, stellette, etc.)
25g grated Grana Padano (or Parmigiano, or Pecorino) - to serve
Extra virgin olive oil – to serve
1. Make the sofritto: Heat the oil in a saucepan and very gently fry the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, rosemary and bay leaves until golden (for approximately 15 - 20 minutes).
2. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves, season the soffritto with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3. Make the minestra (soup): Add the stock to the soffritto, bring to the boil, and then allow to simmer for five minutes.
4. Add half of the beans and the tomato.
5. Mash the remaining beans in a bowl with the back of a fork, then add to the stock. Add the pasta, cabbage (if using), and parsley.
6. Cook gently for another eight minutes or so, until the pasta is al dente, stirring once or twice to prevent the mixture sticking.
7. Skim the soup to remove any scum. Season to taste.
8. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some hard cheese (Parmigiano, Grana Padano, Pecorino etc.) sprinkled on top.