Of the Italian-American all star bean trio I have written about in the Fazool Trilogy, it is this dish that most refer to when they speak in that slang my high school Italian teacher reviled, "fazool."
And in honor of my high school Italian teacher's pet name for me, "pigrone" or lazybones, I've titled my version of pasta e fagioli accordingly.
It's not just because I was a lazy student in my high school Italian class that I've named the dish this way but because, by using canned beans instead of dried, which require soaking and then cooking on their own, I've cut a huge corner in preparation. I'm all for cutting corners in cooking if the results are pretty much negligible either way. And in my experience, I find little difference between taking the time to soak the dried beans instead of just using a good canned brand.
Unlike pasta e ceci, and pasta lenticchie, my grandmother did not make pasta e fagioli much for me. I remember her serving heaping bowls of it to my grandfather at lunch when he would come in from gardening, construction, house painting; whatever handy work he was doing at the time. I don't recall my brothers and I being forced fed what my grandfather ate heartily. Maybe she assumed that we would totally reject the concept of the pale, soft cannellini bean and rather have a tuna fish or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And looking back now, that's a shame. As a result, I came to my appreciation of pasta e fagioli later in life.
My grandmother, I do know, made pasta e fagioli with the legume of choice for the dish, the cannellini bean. I have known Italians, however, who swear by the kidney bean when making their "fazool." To me that changes the dish completely, but who am I to judge anyone on their fagioli preference?
All of the bean dishes in the Fazool Trilogy are unique and not just because of the type of bean. The first in the Trilogy, Pasta e Ceci, is more like a pasta dish; the pasta being the dominant part of the dish with the chick peas folded into the pasta.
In the Fazool Trilogy: Part Two, Pasta e Lenticchie, the lentils are the main attraction, while the strands of broken spaghetti fill out and balance the dish by adding much needed starch to the heftiness of the lentils.
Pasta e fagioli, at least the way I like to make it, is more like a soup, or stew, than the other two. And because it has a more liquid consistency, unlike the others, I add a little meat flavoring, chopped smoked ham or pancetta. If you want to keep it meatless, you won't lose much; the same can be said with adding meat to the other two in the Trilogy.
What follows below is my pretty standard, and hopefully not too difficult, recipe.
Lazybones Pasta e Fagioli
1 tbs of olive oil
2 cans of cannellini beans, (15-16 ounces) drained and rinsed.
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 celery rib, chopped fine
1 medium carrot chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
3 to 4 cups of chicken broth (beef broth works too)
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 28 ounce can of diced or chopped tomatoes with juices (I like pieces of tomato in my broth, so I usually go with diced or chopped; sometimes crushed is just puree)
3 ounces smoked ham, pancetta, or bacon (I prefer the first two to bacon just because bacon's strong flavor influences the dish more than I like, but it still works. For this batch I've used smoked ham).
1 small parmesean Reggiano rind
8 ounces of a small pasta shape (I like ditalini, but small shells, elbows, and tubetini also work).
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven or wide bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
Stir in the onions, celery, and carrots, until they are softened. Around seven minutes.
Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano, stir for about one minute.
Pour in tomatoes and the secret ingredient that's not so secret anymore and bring to a boil.
Add the ham, pancetta or bacon and cook until it browns lightly, around five minutes.
Add the broth, water, 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil.
Drop the pasta into the pot and cook until it is a minute from being al dente. Timing depends on the pasta shape and brand; check the package. (Beware of overcooking the pasta; you don't want mush).
Turn off the heat, stir in the parsley, ladle into bowls, and add the desired amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Like the others in the Trilogy, Pasta e Fagioli is best served with a crusty bread and a green salad.
Thus concludes the Fazool Trilogy, however, I am always open to suggestions and ideas on how this series can be continued and transformed into epic status. So please don't hesitate to comment with your fazool insight.