I don’t know how many times my dad told me that story. For most of his life, he’s worked for Italians. There was this one night when he got invited to a “traditional” family reunion. Italians being what they are, there was food at that reunion. Loads of food. Traditional Italian Food!
So my dad ate, A LOT! In fact he got really really stuffed. But the food was sooooo good, how could he do otherwise? Then, as he is sitting there being so full he could hardly move, one of the hosts come to him and tell him:
-“Hey, the pasta fazool is out, you have got to give it a try”.
-“No way”, my dad said, “even if I wanted to taste it, I am so full, I could not eat another bite”
-“But you have to, I swear you will not regret it” the man said.
So my dad, being the polite man that he is, went ahead and tasted the dish. He was immediately sent to heaven. This was the best thing he ever ate. So much so that he helped himself to a second bowl, and possibly even a third, even though he was about to explode. He just couldn’t help himself, it was that good!
Alas, that was the first and last time he got to eat that dish.
So last year, for his 77th birthday, I decided I would find a recipe and make him one. I did a lot of research and found a recipe that I deemed satisfying. However, I think Pasta Fazool is a little bit like Shepherd’s Pie. There are as many versions of the dish as there are Italians.
I found references that claimed that, traditionally, Pasta e Fagioli was a meatless dish, made with white beans, such as Great Northern or Cannellini, and small pasta like Ditalini. So I decided to go for a recipe that would have those 2 ingredients and that would not have any meat in it. I finally found one that I liked and that looked very good, so I decided to put it to the test and made it for my dad.
Well… big deception. Apparently, it was not even close to the version he had had years before. He said it was very good nonetheless, but it was definitely not the dish he remembered. Oh well. It might not have been a huge success, but it sure added a dish to my menu, for I really, really liked it!
Oh, and also, another interesting fact that I learned while researching Pasta e Fagioli… Dean Martin mentions it in the great classic “That’s Amore”. I had never noticed. But now, every time I think about pasta fazool, this song immediately starts playing in my mind…
When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool
When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet
You’re in love
When you walk down in a dream but you know you’re not
Scuzza me, but you see, back in old Napoli
Allright, enough talking. Here is my adaptation of this great Italian Classic. It was my daughter who made it tonight and she did an excellent job. The soup, or is it a pasta dish?, was absolutely excellent!
- 2 cups dried white beans, such as Cannellini or Great Northern, soaked overnight
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 can (28oz) whole plum tomatoes
- 8 cups boiling water (or chicken stock or vegetable broth)
- 200g Ditalini pasta
- 1 tsp dried Italian Herbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
- freshly grated Parmigiano cheese for garnish
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and gently sauté the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until the vegetables are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add the beans to the vegetables along with the tomatoes, dried herbs, and about 6 cups boiling water (or chicken stock or vegetable broth)
- Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, until the beans are tender, about 1 to 1½ hour.
- Add more boiling water from time to time as necessary: the beans should always be covered with simmering liquid.
- When the beans are very tender, transfer about 4 cups beans and their liquid to a food processor and process to a thick puree. Set aside.
- Add the pasta and another 2 cups of boiling water to the beans in the pot. Cook, stirring constantly, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste and add salt and lots of black pepper.
- Stir the reserved puree back into the soup.
- Serve in individual bowls, garnished with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of parsley, and some Parmigiano.