Italians have been bean eaters for thousands of years. While the ancient Greeks were fond of lentils, Romans favored garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas, which were consumed daily. The common beans arrived in Italy from America with Colombo and returned to America with the Italian immigrants and their “pasta fazool”, i.e. “pasta e fagioli” (pasta with beans).
There are so many versions of this Italian soup: with or without tomato, with fresh or dried pasta, with meat in it (e.g. lard or pancetta) or vegetarian.
I prefer a vegetarian version made with beans which are fresh or dried, not canned, and cook them with fresh herbs and aromatics to intensify their flavor and avoid preservatives. I also like to use fresh fettuccine, cook it separately in hot salted water so it’s al dente and deliciously silky.
- 3 lt (3 quarts) water, at room temperature
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 medium whole onion, peeled
- 1 medium carrot, scrubbed
- 1 celery stalk, leaves removed
- 1 sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves
- 1 finely minced large garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh tagliolini (narrow fettuccine) per person
- 250 gr (8 ounces) borlotti or cannellini beans
Soak beans overnight, rinse and transfer to a tall saucepan. Add onion, carrot, tomato, celery, herbs, and water.
Cover and simmer slowly until beans are tender. At this point you can freeze the beans for later use or keep them for your next meal. Don’t strain the beans, especially if you freeze them, use the aromatic broth as a base for a soup or a pasta sauce.
When ready to serve your meal, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.
Meanwhile, heat the bean soup, then transfer the excess broth to a separate pan. Use a ladle to remove about half of the beans and transfer it to a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
Pour the puréed mixture back into the pot with the remaining soup. Stir well to combine. Add some reserved broth to obtain the desired creamy consistency. Season with salt and black pepper and taste to adjust. Cover to keep warm.
In a shallow pan large enough to contain all the pasta, briefly sauté 1 finely minced garlic clove in a tablespoon extra virgin olive oil until fragrant. Cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Fresh tagliolini will take no more than one minute.
Assemble pasta and beans
Drain the pasta, toss quickly in the garlic oil and a little pasta water. Ladle the beans into bowls, top with the pasta and drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano.
For added color, if you like, decorate bowls with diced fresh tomatoes, parsley leaves or chives.