Pasta e Fagioli—the Easiest of Italian Recipes

pasta e fagioli

The well-known Pasta e Fagioli, or pasta and beans, is an Italian treasure. Every family has their own recipe: with or without garlic, with oil instead of bacon or lard, with or without Parmigiano.

You can make your own version very easily. In Italy, pasta e fagioli immediately reminds us of our grandmas. Its full aromatic taste means family, tradition, and home sweet home.

pasta e fagioli

This is my recipe for pasta e fagioli. The base is a genuine mix of sautéed vegetables: carrots, celery, and onion. I first add beans and then the pasta. A little tomato paste makes it appetizing and smooth; bay leaves and your favorite herbs make a unique flavor profile. Healthy and balanced, pasta e fagioli is a traditional peasant dish that works well in winter. You need to choose the right ingredients, which call for slow cooking. 

A little advice about the ingredients

Beans: In Italy, borlotti (cranberry) beans best suit this dish. In the US, look for cannellini (white kidney) or pinto beans. Red kidney beans, which make the dish richer in color, work as well. According to the kind of beans you buy—frozen, fresh, or dried—the method and the cooking time will vary.  

  • Sautéed vegetables: They reduce the natural sweetness of the dish. Needed are an onion, a carrot, some celery, and a clove of garlic, which you will remove while cooking (so leave it whole). 
  • Tomato paste or tomato sauce: Tomato paste makes for a stronger taste; tomato sauce is lighter. Mix the tomato sauce with a little tomato paste until you get your favorite result (read the recipe below).
  • Extra virgin olive oil: I always use extra virgin olive oil, which is the most healthy.
  • Pasta: Any small ones work. I prefer ditaloni or elbow maccaroni. When I have small pasta of different shapes, which are not enough for a single serving on their own, I put everything together. Fresh pasta is also appropriate: Use the leftovers of the tagliatelle you have just made; cut it into small pieces for your pasta e fagioli. 
  • Fresh herbs: You should use different herbs, such as bay leaves while cooking, and rosemary, thyme, or marjoram before serving.

Some more suggestions for your pasta e fagioli

  • If you want to make this recipe completely vegetarian, only use extra virgin olive oil. On the other hand, if you want a more flavorful and rustic soup, use bacon or lard if you have any on hand.
  • You should have this dish for lunch, and combine it with a nice crisp salad. Finish off your meal with an orange; you will absorb more iron from the dish. 

What you should know about beans and their preparation

Beans, just like other pulses (beans, peas, lentils), must be cooked for a long time. They need to be soaked and rehydrated for about 6 to 8 hours, so it’s a good idea to soak them the night before you cook them. If you have an instapot or a pressure cooker, you can cook them instead the same day. 

  • Soaking beans makes it easier to cook and digest them. The process also reduces the gas-producing compounds. You may use them after cooking or freeze them. 
  • Slow-soaking beans: Soak the beans in cool water and discard those which float on the surface. Put the beans in a big bowl and cover them with enough water (3x the amount of beans) and set aside in the fridge or in a cold place overnight. 
  • Fast-soaking beans: Choose the most intact beans and put them in a pot; pour 1 liter of water for every 2 cups (200g) of dried beans and bring to a boil. Boil them briskly for a couple of minutes and then remove from the heat. Cover with a lid and set aside for 1-2 hours or until they get hydrated and bloated. Drain them and add them to your recipe. 
  • In an Instapot or a pressure cooker: Follow the guidelines provided for each machine.
  • In the microwave oven: Arrange the beans on a tray big enough to contain them when they are hydrated: cover with cold water and cook on HIGH for about 8-10 minutes. Set aside for 1 hour.
  • In case of frozen beans, boil them in salted water for about 3-4 minutes.

italian pasta e fagioli

Are beans vegetables?

No, they aren’t. They are legumes, which are a sub-group of the vegetable food group. They should not be substituted for vegetables in your daily food consumption. Can they replace meat? No, although they are quite rich in proteins, they also contain more carbs than you think and have a high glycemic index, meaning they raise the level of sugar in your blood during digestion. Thus, beans are definitely similar to pasta; they should be eaten as moderately as you eat a dish of pasta. In Italy, beans are considered a main dish according to the criteria of the Mediterranean Diet, so have them for lunch side along with a serving of vegetables.

pasta e fagioli

Pasta e fagioli: the easiest and most famous Italian recipe

I can still remember it very well: my mum and my beloved granny used to make me eat pasta and fagioli. I hated it! And I was so whimsical, I cried…my mum reproached me! A true tragedy! My granny used to be more “tender”- she tried to convince me that I had to open my mouth and then she pushed the soup directly into my throat with a sudden movement of her thumb, spoon after spoon. My mum was not as patient as my granny, so she pushed the spoon into my mouth then, she unloaded its content and closed my lips. I could not do anything else but swallow everything under her severe glance (when I think it was very funny, but at that time…). I really did not want to hear a think about it! The saddest meal in the world…it made me feel sick- when I saw it in my bowl I knew it was going to be a bad day! 
Yet, not it is one one my favorites, now! Embracing, hot, winterly, it means family-home sweet home! 
How can you fall in love with a dish you really don’t like? Cook it, and cook it over an over again, ingredient after ingredient. You become the protagonist of your recipe: create it in your pot, enjoy the smell which spread all over your kitchen. 
So, I think you you may have to create your own recipes in order to fall in love with those dishes you have always hated. A recipe is a kind of magical potion which turns from an unpleasant concoction into an exquisite dish- it will remind you of old times, spoon after spoon.
Print
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword pasta e fagioli
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Servings 4 people

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of dried, frozen, or fresh cannellini beans
  • ½ lb of small pasta 
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 tbsp small onion
  • 3 tbsp of tomato paste or 1 cup (250 ml) of tomato sauce 
  • Extra virgin olive oil (or 2 slices of bacon for more flavor)
  • 3 leaves of bay
  • Thyme, rosemary, or marjoram for added flavor 
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Red pepper flakes to taste

Instructions

  • If you use dried beans, soak them according to the method stated above. If you use frozen beans, bring some water to a rolling boil, add some salt and then the beans; cook for about 10 minutes. If you use fresh beans, you do not need any preparation. Just rinse them under cold running water;
  • Prepare the vegetables: Wash and chop the celery, onion, and carrot very thinly and put them into a pot with a little oil or lard;
  • Add the whole clove of garlic and fry over medium-high heat until the sautéed vegetables turn golden brown. Remove the garlic and stir in the beans;
  • Pour in the tomato sauce or paste;
  • Season with salt and pepper and bay leaves. Cover with a lid and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes;
  • If it gets too dry, add some water or a little vegetable broth;
  • Remove a third of the beans; then blend the soup with an immersion blender until creamy;
  • Add some water or vegetable broth to make it more liquidy;
  • Bring it to a rolling boil again and add the fresh or dry pasta;
  • Cook the pasta according to the package instructions;
  • Add the beans you have set aside; season with more salt and pepper;
  • Garnish with a little oil and dried herbs. Red pepper flakes can be sprinkled on as well;
  • Serve it very hot with some freshly grated Parmigiano on top.

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