Life is funny. You cook up Marcella Hazan’s Chicken fricassee with extra pungent porcini all the while expecting your family to hate it and everybody drools over the food. Then you make her classic Pasta e Fagioli soup with high hopes, no way can you miss with that list of ingredients, and it’s a little blah.
Don’t get me wrong: this week’s assignment for my Cooking Italy Club was not a total miss by any means. It was just, well, ordinary. In my book, that is, because my 4 year old dived in since he prefers bland flavours like most kids his age. In other words, it’s not because I wasn’t thrilled that you or your family won’t be.
One of the “drawbacks” of this recipe for me was that it needed to be served right away, otherwise the pasta drinks up all the broth and you end up with stew. Since I needed to take pictures for this post, what you see here IS a soup; what my family ate two hours later was anything but.
Did you know?
Many beans like cranberry beans can be frozen with great success when in season. You just shell and freeze them in sealed plastic bags. You can then cook them as if they were fresh. Marcella Hazan likens the taste of cranberry beans to that of chestnut. They are a favourite in Italy where they are also called the Scotch bean. In Canada, I found them under the name Romano or Borlotti beans, but there is no mistaking their speckled cream and red pattern that unfortunately fades during cooking. You don’t say.
Has this ever happened to you? You find a recipe with nothing but good ingredients, like here, and expect the end result to be at the very least the sum of its parts if not more—but it never comes together. Conversely, you cook with very mundane ingredients with no expectation whatsover and kazam! culinary fireworks.
From a fairly new but duly crossmarked cutting board to my Mom’s 50-year-old blackened pot, my kitchen ware is anything but Food Network worthy.
So here is, the pasta e fagioli that was just okay. For me. But my brood loved it. Geez, for once, I’m the picky eater in this family.
Marcella Hazan’s Pasta e Fagioli
• 250 ml (1 cup) dried cranberry beans (or 1 kg/2 lbs fresh or 3 cans)
• 60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped onion
• 45 ml (3 tbsp) chopped carrot
• 45 ml (3 tbsp) chopped celery
• 2 little pork chops (or 3-4 pork ribs or a meaty ham bone)
• 180 ml (2/3 cup) canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped with their juice
• 1.25 L (5 cups) beef broth — recipe says 750 ml/3 cups but I wanted a more liquid soup
• 250 g (1/2 lbs) macaroni
• 15 ml (1 tbsp) butter
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh grated Parmesan
• salt and fresh ground black pepper
1. The night before, soak cranberry beans in twice their volume of water.
2. Drain and rinse beans, transfer to a pot and cover with at least 5 cm (2 in) of water. Simmer gently for 45 minutes or until beans are tender but not mushy. Do not salt.
3. In a soup pot over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until golden.
4. Add carrot and celery, stir to coat, then add pork. Cook 10 minutes turning once in a while.
5. Add tomatoes and their juice, lower heat and simmer-cook 20 minutes (if using dried or canned beans; make it 10 if you will be adding fresh beans).
6. Add in beans, stir to coat and cook 5 minutes. Pour in broth and cover to bring to a quick boil, no more. (If using fresh beans only, cook for 45 minutes more.)
7. Remove 125 ml (1/2 cup) of beans and mash them. I took some broth as well and used a hand blender. Return to pot, season with generous amounts of salt and some black pepper, stirring thoroughly.
8. Add macaroni to gently boiling soup. Careful, if the liquid is low, add enough broth to cook pasta al dente.
9. When pasta is cooked, add butter and parmesan. Let soup stand 10 minutes before serving.