Pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) is a staple Italian dish, an iconic representation of the countryside, born out of simplicity and a need for frugality. It is good old fashioned comfort food at its best, nourishing the soul and providing sustenance during long winter nights.
Pasta e fagioli is one of the most popular soups in Italy, particularly in southern Italy, Veneto and Tuscany (Tuscans are known as “mangiafagioli“, bean eaters, so this not surprising). Each area has its own variations but generally it is made with either fresh or dried borlotti or cannelloni beans which are cooked in water or broth flavoured with herbs and oil or lardo. The beans may be partially or completely pureed. Pasta such as tagliatelle, maltagliati, broken spaghetti or short pasta like ditalini or tubetti are added. Condiments include olive oil and freshly ground black pepper, grated cheese, chopped garlic and parsley, oil infused with sage and rosemary or even a drop of balsamic vinegar. The soup can be eaten while warm or reheated the day after it is made.
In Piedmont, borlotti beans and boiled with potatoes, lardo or salami and a soffrito of carrot, celery, onion, leek and garlic and cut up egg tagliatelle are added. In Veneto and Friuli, borlotti beans, lardo, pancetta or pork rind are cooked with egg pasta. In some parts of Friuli, pig’s trotters are added. In some versions in Veneto, the Lamon bean is used and potatoes are added. In the Dolomites in Veneto, Lamon beans are cooked with oil, butter, carrot, celery, tomatoes and pumpkin and tagliatelle is added.
In Tuscany, cannelloni beans are used and are flavoured with garlic and chilli. In Emilia, beans are stewed with tomatoes and served with egg maltagliati. In Naples, the soup is thicker and oregano, chilli, garlic, fresh tomato and a mixture of pasta shapes are used (a great way of using up a mixture of leftover pasta shapes). Spicy pork sausages are added in another Neapolitan variation.
With so many existing variations, feel free the tailor the dish to suit your taste.
Pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans) – Veneto
250 grams dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight
75 grams pancetta, chopped
1 carrot, peeled, ends removed and finely diced
1 celery rib, rinsed, ends removed and finely diced
1 onion, skin and ends removed and finely diced
1 rosemary branch, rinsed, dried, leaves removed and finely chopped
30 mls extra-virgin olive oil or lardo
200 grams tagliatelle (can substitute 150 grams ditalini)
30 grams Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
Traditional balsamic vinegar (optional)
Black pepper, freshly ground
Place the beans, pancetta, salt, black pepper and 2 litres of water in a large saucepan. Heat over medium heat to a simmer and let cook for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, fry the the carrot, celery, onion and rosemary in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add this to the beans and cook another 20 minutes.
Carefully puree half of the mixture and add back to the beans. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste and add the pasta. Cook the pasta for the time indicated on the packaging (or for fresh tagliatelle for 1-2 minutes).
Ladle the soup into 4 bowls. Grate some black pepper over top. Sprinkle the cheese over top and add a drop of traditional balsamic vinegar if you wish.
Craving a heartier, more rustic bean soup? Try the Tuscan zuppa di fagioli here.