PASTA E FAGIOLI
As any Italian typical meal, there are a thousand different ways to prepare it and every single recipe is just fine.
Growing up in beautiful Friuli Venezia Giulia, a culinary cross border peasant cuisine area, there was just one recipe, which was more a minestra di fagioli, occasionally hosting some overcooked pasta, or some other times a little rice or just nothing other than beans.
Our beans are borlotti, which are grown in the gardens during summertime, shelled lazily sitting around the table with the family and savored in the soup first, and afterwards the leftovers are used as a sauce to tame our very bitter radicchio (not that sweet kind of stuff you find in the shop).
My mom would prepare a broth with carrots, onion, celery, a potato, beans, plenty of water and a clove. It would simmer for ages until it reached a creamy consistency. Then you taste it for salt and prepare a soffritto (olive oil, onion and salt) to give it a bit of a flare.
Sometimes people would just put a piece of meat to cook along, but I am not particularly fond of it. Some other condiments were: fried lard (still one of my dad’s favorites), small cubes of montasio - our cheese, and a sprinkle of red vinegar.
Then I grew up, went abroad, met there my two beloved friends from Rome and entered into a hefty discussion about pasta e fagioli. In central Italy, it is a totally different story.
They use other kind of beans, they make a lighter broth where they cook their pasta al dente. Of course at first I was quite appalled and I just denied strongly any overture to such recipes. Then as all Italians I went home and figured out how I could try it and make my own version.
It is a simple nutritious recipe for everyday.
This is my take on it:
What you need for two/three/four people (depending on your appetite).
½ cup dried beans, presoaked overnight, cooked (15-20 minutes in the pressure cooker) and drained. You can substitute fresh beans (lovely) or canned beans (a bit boring but practical). You can reserve the cooking liquid if you wish.
1 onion, finely minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 small can of tomatoes or two fresh ones, peeled and chopped (optional)
1 tsp cayenne (optional)
Black olives (optional)
½ pound pasta
Black pepper, freshly grated
Parmigiano or Pecorino, grated, to taste
How to do it:
Prepare the soffritto: take a frying pan, pour the olive oil, onion and salt. Stir well. Let it cook until the onion is well done. You can start with higher heat but then it is advisable to lower the heat to medium or low.
Add the tomatoes, cayenne and olives if using. You can make variations by simply adding them all or omitting one or more according to how you feel.
Careful with those cheeky tomatoes: they spurt blatantly without previous notice.
Cover the pan and let it simmer: if using canned tomatoes, at least 15 minutes, if using fresh, just the time they look like a mushy little red paste about 3-7 minutes depending on how ripe they are.
Now for the pasta. I usually cook it in fresh water according to package directions. If you have cooked your beans, you may wish to use the reserved water and cook pasta in it.
When pasta is done, drain it, pour it on the tomato sauce, add the beans, sauté on high for a few minutes.
Serve topped with some black pepper, grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.