Winter pasta: Pasta e fagioli

The pasta e fagioli I made while writing this blog post.

The pasta e fagioli I made while writing this blog post.

As I’m writing this, the weather is damp and chilly, and the mid-winter is a great time for pasta e fagioli, an Italian peasant dish that has as many versions as there are Italian kitchens, I think. It might be Italy’s best known meatless meal, although many recipes add meats like pancetta, diced ham, salt pork, or bacon.

Today I’m making a meatless version, but not truly vegetarian, since I’m using chicken broth. One thing I like about pasta e fagioli is the use of basics. I am rarely without onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, a can of chopped tomatoes (if I don’t have fresh ones to use), a can of beans, and some pasta.

Regarding the seasonings: Since it’s a wintertime dish, dried herbs are entirely appropriate–basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley. Where I live, I have parsley growing outdoors much of the winter too, so I’ll chop some fresh to add with the pasta. Some add some zip with red pepper flakes. I like ground black pepper, and am fairly generous with it.

Regarding the beans: Ideally I would use cannellini beans, however today a can of great northern beans was handy. Kidney or pinto beans will work. I haven’t tried it with garbanzos, but  wouldn’t rule them out if that’s what I had available.

Regarding the pasta: Most recipes suggest ditalini, the tiny rings I have always thought of as macaroni salad pasta. But any smallish pasta will work. Because I’m usually cooking for two, I rarely use a full box of pasta.  What I like to use in soup is the last little bit left over from a box–so today I’m throwing in a cup or so of whole grain rotini. 

A pot of pasta e fagioli will make a great light supper with nothing more than garlic bread or cheesy focaccia. Top each bowl with parmesan. If you have big eaters to feed, you can pair the soup with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and add a simple dessert.

Wherever you are, you can enjoy a little taste of Italy with an easy to make, yummy to eat, pot of pasta e fagioli!

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