It never fails that when I bring up the recipe for Pasta Fagioli (fa-joe-lee aka Pasta Fazool ) the old Dean Martin song comes to my mind and I’m transported back to my mother’s kitchen…
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
…where my mother butchered Pasta Fagioli.
Oh yeah, she’s Italian – full-blooded Italian – born of Italians who immigrated to the US in the teens of the last century. Yet, she could not make pasta fazool in a traditional way. She was, unfortunately, a housewife product of the “modern” fifties kitchen and used a can of pork ‘n’ beans for the recipe.
I grew up with this version of Pasta Fazool for twenty some years until going to Italy to get the actual recipe. But, I don’t blame my mother for not making it from scratch. It can be a pain in the patootie. That being said with a few simple rules and a crock pot, it’s really very easy. I think she used the pork’n’beans because it had fatback in it and pork fat really is the secret to a good dish of Pasta Fazool. If you’re vegetarian it is perfectly acceptable (and tasty) to substitute with sundried tomatoes to get a richer sauce and deeper flavor.
Pasta Fagioli requires a little planning.
Pasta Fazool is Neopolitan dialect for pasta cooked with beans or “fagioli” which is a household staple because of it’s practicality and use of leftovers. It also demands good quality fresh dried beans and a lot of simmering. If the beans at the mega-mart have dust on them, go elsewhere. I prefer to use the slow cooker to prep the beans the day before. They benefit from a good long soak followed by 3-4 hours of simmering in the slow cooker. The beans should be firm but have a creamy texture once you bite into them.
Tip: Check the temperature of your low setting, make sure it is around but not over 200ºF. This will ensure that the beans do not overcook. See how!
That’s what I mean about a little planning. After that it’s just a few simple steps. First gather your ingredients (the beans are in the crockpot not shown).
Whenever I make this dish, the house smells like my Grandmother’s kitchen. It’s the same aroma that you are seduced by when you walk into an Italian restaurant and just know that a great meal awaits. Pasta Fazool is a humble and modest one-dish dinner that with simple ingredients makes a complex deep flavor. It catches you unaware and suddenly you’re in love, signore….
Scusa me, but you see back in old Napoli….that’s amore!
1/4 pound diced smokey bacon or pancetta
(optional soaked sundried tomatoes with broth)
1/3-1/2 cup diced shallot
1/3 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil, (3-4 tablespoons if not using bacon)
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce (my Weeknight Marinara is good for this)
1/2 pound Rancho Gordo Borlotti beans, soaked 6-8 hours
4 cups homemade chicken stock or your favorite canned chicken stock (0r vegetable stock)
2-4 cups pasta cooked al dente ( I use leftover ziti or ditalini)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Parmigiana to sprinkle over individual dishes
- In a large heavy bottom soup pot, sauté bacon until browned.
- Discard all but about 1 -2 tablespoons bacon fat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil (you should have 3-4 tbsp fat total).
- Over medium heat, sauté your mirepoix-onions, celery, carrots, and garlic-until soft and onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add herbs (oregano and basil).
- Add beans.
- Add marinara sauce.
- Add stock and simmer over medium heat until beans are tender, 35-45 minutes (cooking time may vary depending on freshness of beans). You may add up to four cups of water if necessary and it appears too dry.
- Add cooked pasta and turn off the heat so that the pasta soaks up some of the soupiness and concentrates flavors.
- Remove from heat, stir in the parsley if you opt for parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve in bowls sprinkled with parmigiana with your favorite crusty bread on the side.
Try it, it’s good!