Within the recent past (last few years or so) I have overcome one of my deep seated childhood food revulsions, beans. For the longest time I could not get past the texture. Something about the smushiness combined with the resistance of the skin gave me the willies.
But no longer.
And when I discovered that I no longer despised beans, I kind of went on a bean bender. I wanted beans with every meal, I tried every kind of bean I could get my hands on. My new obsession with beans lasted almost 9 months, and then I was burnt out. If beans were in something I would not reject it out of hand as I had before, but I no longer sought beans out with the determination of a bloodhound.
Now, I have found a happy medium. Beans are a part of our weekly diet, but they are not in every meal. At times they are bit players and at times they are the star attraction. This dish is so deeply satisfying that it does not allow you to lament the fact that you are eating a meatless meal. And it makes rocking leftovers.
Pasta e Fagioli
Adapted from Nigella Cooks
Large Saucepan or small stockpot, Saute Pan, Blender, Tea ball (optional)
1 lb Dried Cranberry Beans
1 T + 1 t Chopped Garlic
2 – 3 Sprigs Rosemary
1 Bay leaf
1 Onion, chopped
1 T Tomato Paste
2 C Chicken or Vegetable stock or Water
7 oz Ditalini
Salt & Pepper to taste
1) Wash and pick through beans, soak overnight or for at least 6 hours.
2) Pour some olive oil into a large saucepan (or small stockpot) and sauté onions until just browned, add 1 T garlic and sauté briefly. Add beans and cover with water 2 inches over beans.
3) Place 2 sprigs of Rosemary and Bay leaf into the teaball and hang into pot. If you don’t feel like being all fancy with the teaball then you can use a sachet – which to me seems even fancier. Nigella tells you to put it into a knee-high stocking but I think that is kinda creepy/nasty. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 hour. Check periodically and after beans are tender add salt to taste. Start with less then you think you will need, you can adjust at the end.
4) When the beans are nearing the end of cooking, clean and mince additional rosemary, at least 1 teaspoon – more if you like. Remove 1 C of beans from the pot and put them in your blender. Puree them well, you might need to add a little of the cooking water. While doing this, bring the beans back to a boil with the addition of 1 C of stock or water and add pasta.
5) While pasta is cooking, bring a tablespoon or two of olive oil to medium heat in a sauté pan add 1 t garlic and sauté slowly until it begins to roast a bit then add the tomato paste, minced rosemary, some salt and some pepper. Sauté briefly and then add the pureed beans and stir together well. Turn heat to low and allow to blend, if it takes too long for the pasta to cook go ahead and turn the heat off of the sauté pan and let it hang out.
6) When the ditilini is al dente, add the pureed bean mixture back to the big pot and stir well. If it seems too thick add more stock or water. Continue cooking at a simmer until the pasta is completely tender. Adjust seasonings as you like.
7) Serve in a bowl with grated parmesan and if you like a little heat, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.
I have made this with a mirepoix mixture in the beginning and it turns out just as nicely with the added bonus of more veggies in the dish. You could also increase the amount of tomato paste if you wanted to up the tomatoey quotient.
There are as many recipes for this dish are there are Italian mamas, and I do not claim to be an Italian mama. One of the significant variations between versions is it’s end thickness. In some interpretations you get a tomatoey broth with beans and pasta floating about among a variety of veggies. In other interpretations you could slice yourself off a chunk like cold macaroni and cheese.
Your best bet is to tinker with this until it makes you happy. The only thing you need to be careful about is when you add the salt. If you add salt at the beginning of the cooking process your beans will take forever to soften, if they soften at all. Don’t know why, if you find out let me know O.K.?