Pasta e Fagioli

pasta e fagioli
pasta e fagioli, photo by j.andrews

Growing up, we didn’t eat a lot of pasta. Every few months, there was spaghetti and meatballs, but mostly, we had potatoes. It turns out, the rest of my cohort were eating a lot more pasta than I was, and it seems to be something of a comfort food for many people. Personally, I like it because it’s easy.

We served a pasta e fagioli soup at a sandwich restaurant I worked at, but years ago, someone gave me a recipe for a pasta dish, not soup, that was mostly a can each of beans and tomatoes. It was easy, but kind of boring, and it seemed like something that could take on a ton more vegetables, both for health and nutrition and for color. So I started tinkering. I’ve put off putting this up on the blog since last fall, primarily because I’m still tinkering. Because of that, I’m going to give you some options and ranges on amounts of ingredients. But as we move into cooler weather (well, in New England — I guess it was 90-something in Bismarck on Friday), I am thinking of heartier meals that are still quick and make enough for leftovers.

So here you go. If you have dried pasta, a can of beans, and a can of tomatoes, and garlic, you can make a version of this happen in about 40 minutes. The longer cooking time is because the beans begin to break down and make the sauce creamy. If you make the sauce a day or so ahead, you have an even quicker meal with a creamier sauce. If you come up with a variation you like, please share it in the comments!

simmering bean sauce photo by j.andrews
simmering bean sauce, photo by j.andrews

Pasta e fagioli

  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, cooking grade (generally not extra virgin)
  • 1 teaspoon (2 cloves) minced garlic
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped sweet onion (optional)
  • 2-4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/4-1/2 of a bell pepper chopped finely (optional)
  • 1 8 oz. package of white button mushrooms, washed and broken (optional, I guess)
  • 1 8 oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups of canned tomatoes, diced or roughly chopped, and their juice
  • 5-8 oz. baby spinach, roughly chopped (optional, but really good in this)
  • 1-3 Tablespoons good quality olive oil (the fancier kind you’d use for salad dressing, if you have it)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Pasta of your choice (I used Ancient Harvest quinoa and corn shells)

In a large skillet, heat up your first 2 T of olive oil over medium heat. When it is shimmering hot, add the garlic and the onion (if using). Stir frequently.

As those aromatics become translucent, add the celery and bell pepper. Stir to completely coat with oil, then add the mushrooms. You’ve broken instead of chopping the mushrooms because they hold their shape and shrink less, and this gives them more texture. Yes, I suppose these are optional, too, if you really hate mushrooms. I just find that hard to imagine (sorry, Denise).

When the mushrooms are thoroughly wilted (that’s what they will look like), add the beans and the tomatoes, but reserve most of the tomato juice. I just scoop the tomatoes out with a slotted spoon. Stir these in will, and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook this for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the tomato juice, and cook another 15-20 minutes. The beans will start to break down, and this gives the “sauce” a great texture — it is very thick and chunky at this stage.

Assuming your pasta takes about 10 minutes, start it now. Cook according to package directions, making sure to reserve some of the water when you drain it for the step below.

At this point, add the spinach to the bean mixture, and cook until all the spinach is wilted. Decide if you want your sauce a bit thinner at this stage. If so, add from 1T to 1/4 cup of your pasta water, adding slowly and stirring until you get the desired consistency. If not, go directly to adding another 1-3 Tablespoons of good quality olive oil (the more you add, the richer it gets, just like hummus), stirring it in thoroughly. Taste your sauce and add salt (if needed) and a bit of fresh ground pepper.

Serve sauce over pasta.

pasta e fagioli photo by j.andrews
pasta e fagioli, photo by j.andrews

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