When we were on the East coast visiting during winter break, we took a little side trip to visit my brother in Philadelphia. It was a quick visit, but we had a very memorable meal. My sister-in-law, AAB, is a great cook. She always makes special treats for us when we visit, an effort which is not lost on any of us food lovers!
Dinner was so good on our recent visit, that I’ve made her recipes multiple times. One of them, I’ve written about: Speedy No-Knead Bread. For tonight’s bread, I added some lemon zest and rosemary to this simple bread. It was great, as usual. The girls still put honey on the bread, as my nieces did in Philly. Is there anything better than fresh bread with butter and honey? Such total comfort food.
The other dish that AAB cooked was Pasta e Fagioli (pasta fazoole), a hearty bean and pasta soup. The recipe that she used is from Cook’s Illustrated. She modified it to make it a little lighter by using Canadian bacon instead of pancetta. I’ve further changed it to make it a little more liquid by cooking the pasta separately. This helps because the recipe makes a lot of soup (it says it serves 8-10, but I think it is more like 6-8). By cooking the pasta separately, you can save and/or freeze the leftover soup for another day. I also add some chopped carrot. Tonight, when I made the soup, I threw in some green beans because I had them in the house. So the soup was more like a minestrone consistency, with the flavor of the Pasta e Fagioli.
J took deep breaths and sort of mmm’d her way through dinner, as she was savoring each bite. She does this when she really likes something (like Matt Dillon in “The Flamingo Kid”). L completely cleaned her bowl and asked if she could have the soup for lunch tomorrow in her thermos. If that isn’t a rousing endorsement, I don’t know what is.
Pasta e Fagioli
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 oz. pancetta, bacon or Canadian bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped finely (1/4 inch dice)
1 large rib celery, chopped finely (1/4 inch dice)
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped finely (1/4 inch dice)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. chili flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed in a garlic press
3 anchovy fillets, drained, and minced to a paste
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 piece of parmesan rind, approximately 2″X5″
2 15 oz. cans cannelini beans, rinsed and drained (I used 1 can cannelini’s and 1 can pinto beans, because that what what I had in the house – it was just fine)
2 1/2 cups water
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup green beans, in 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 lb. small pasta shape (about the size of macaroni salad pasta), cooked according to package directions
Heat olive oil in a stock pot. Add pancetta, bacon, or Canadian bacon and cook until beginning to brown – about 3-5 minutes on medium high heat. Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pot. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the oregano, hot pepper and garlic. Cook for another minute or two until the mixture is very fragrant and the vegetables take on a bit more color. Add the anchovies and stir well, until they are evenly distributed through the vegetable mixture. Add the tomatoes to the pot and stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the parmesan rind and beans to the pot. Stir into the tomatoes and continue to cook until the flavors meld – about 10 minutes more. At this point, you can cool the mixture and refrigerate for up to 3 days before you continue on (the flavors will develop even more).
Add the water, broth, 1/2 of the parsley and the green beans to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and simmer at least 10 minutes and up to 20.
To serve, put a big spoonful of pasta into the bottom of a bowl. Top with the bean and tomato soup. Sprinkle on some fresh parsley and grated parmesan.