January 18, 2017
Talk about comfort food! Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans) hits the spot (for me, at least!).
There are endless variations. White kidney beans, red kidney beans, chick peas, butter beans, fava beans, for example. Ditalini, mezzi rigatoni, lumaconi, orecchiette, linguine, and more. Not to mention the possibilities of tomato sauce, anchovies, broccoli, rapini, and escarole. I could go on but you get the point. You could mix and match just those ingredients and come up with hundreds of different combinations.
Growing up, my mother made only one version that I recall. It featured butter beans, tomato sauce and ditalini. The amount of liquid was equivalent to pasta with a red sauce. My Aunt Margie, my mom’s sister, made hers with chick peas and ditalini, no tomato sauce, and it was definitely more of a soup. My guess is that my grandmother made both versions, and probably others, but my mom and my aunt each settled on one for their cooking repertory.
Then there’s a version that I learned from a work colleague, Louis Evangelista, more than thirty years ago. He learned it from his Sicilian grandfather. It features linguine, red kidney beans, escarole, red pepper, and an abundant amount of garlic.
Then there’s orecchiette with kidney beans, broccoli and anchovy.
But we’re not making any of these today. We’re doing a simple version with kidney beans and lumaconi. The others will make their appearance in the coming months.
Lumaconi is a wonderful pasta shape for pasta e fagioli. Lumaconi means snails. Look at the picture below and you’ll see the resemblance. What’s so cool about using lumaconi is that the beans naturally slip inside the cooked pasta for the perfect mouthful of beans and pasta!
If you use red kidney beans rather than white, the contrast between the bean and pasta will look startlingly like real snails. This might not be a good thing depending on your audience!
I strongly encourage you to start with dry beans rather than canned. Follow the recipe for Cannellini alla Toscana using either white or red kidney beans. For something as hands-off as putting a pot of beans in the oven you’ll be rewarded with enough beans for two, if not three, meals plus a taste profile that is infinitely superior to canned beans.
This last point was hammered home to me a few months ago. We were in Alamogordo with Pat and Becky, friends from Santa Fe. We spent the day at White Sands National Monument sledding down the dunes followed by lunch in Ruidoso before returning to our little house in Alamogordo (the house is another story for another day).
We didn’t feel like going out, not that there are many places to go out to in Alamogordo unless you count Chili’s, which, inexplicably, is my husband’s favorite restaurant in town. Besides, we made the requisite pilgrimage to Chili’s the night before.
So, a couple of cans of kidney beans later, I was making pasta e fagioli. It was good, no doubt. But it had been a very long time since I had used canned beans (even though there is an entire phalanx of canned beans in my pantry). I was actually startled by the difference in taste and texture, having grown so accustomed to using home-cooked beans.
However, by all means, if using canned beans is the difference between trying this dish, and not. Go for it! You might want to throw an extra bit of herbs in the pot at the beginning, like a bay leaf and some sage, but it’s not really essential.
Let me know what you think of the recipe. And for those of you who have your own favorite version of pasta e fagioli, let me know what it is.