Classic White Bean Pasta e Fagioli, (pah-sta eh fazh-e-ohl-eh), a humble dish of pasta and beans. It’s a traditional Italian soup with many variations, but its simplicity and affordability are a deception to the rich flavor it contains.
Like so many other Italian dishes Pasta e Fagioli started as a peasant dish, comprised of inexpensive ingredients. It’s comfort food that aligns itself with the ingredients you have on hand. Our must-have is sweet sausage with fennel and extra fennel seeds (we love fennel) it creates killer flavor!
But we have to start with a great soffritto (Italian Mirepoix), don’t worry it won’t take long and you’ll have a new flavor machine to add to your arsenal.
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What is an Italian soffritto?
- Also known as the “Holy Trinity” soffritto is a (not so secret) “secret ingredient” that’s created from three humble elements. It’s the first step to developing a mass impact of flavor from vegetables you probably have in your kitchen now. A mix of aromatic veg that we cook down slowly (sweating) until they’re soft and just shy of being browned.
- Based on the Italian verb soffriggere, which means “to stir fry” or “saute,” soffritto is probably considered more of a cooking technique, rather than a dish in itself.
- Onions, carrots, and celery diced small and cooked over medium-low heat, lose a considerable amount of liquid and volume as they sweat down adding infinite flavor and richness to the base of soups, stews, and sauces.
How to make the perfect soffritto
Roughly dice a proportionately similar amount of onions, carrots, and celery. Warm a heavy-bottomed Dutch Oven over medium-low heat (we don’t want to brown the soffritto) toss in a knob of butter 1-2 Tablespoons or a healthy splash of extra virgin olive oil, begin to melt it down and then toss in the onions, carrots, and celery.
Chef’s Tip: I may get reamed by pros for cooking our soffritto all at once, usually you’ll start with just the onions and cook them down until translucent and aromatic. At that point, you add the carrots and celery and cook everything down slowly, for anywhere from 30-60 minutes.
So if you have the time and want to prepare your soffritto like my Nonna did, then do it this way! 🙂 But if your family is hungry and you just want to sit down to eat then toss all those veggies in at once and begin sweating them down. You’ll still knock the flavor out of the park, I promise.
What else can I use soffritto for?
Here’s the beauty, soffritto stores like a charm in the fridge up to a week in the fat (butter or EVOO) you cook it in. Add a pop of umami flavor to brighten your favorite dishes, the caramelization brings amazing richness and your family won’t be able to pin down the exact flavor of vegetables but will appreciate the flavor it introduces to meals.
- scrambled eggs
- grilled fish
I think you’ve had a taste of what soffritto can do for your dishes, so we’ll get to making the soup.
What pasta can I use for making Pasta e Fagioli?
Typically you’ll see ditalini pasta listed in a recipe, but any small cut pasta is perfectly fine. Here we used an organic egg yolk pasta, frankly, I don’t even think you need pasta in this soup. Yes, I said it, but in sticking with tradition I did add some to each bowl at the end for serving. Don’t be tempted to cook the pasta in the soup, unless you want a thick and gummy outcome! Cook them separately and save yourself the heartache of a ruined soup.
Cooking time will vary
Please Note: Cooking time will vary if you are using soaked beans vs. canned. We soaked the beans overnight (no salt), dumped the soak water and rinsed the beans and then added in step 4. If using canned beans be sure to rinse them as well to remove the extra starchy water.
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How to Make Pasta e Fagioli (better than Olive Garden)
Classic White Bean Pasta e Fagioli, (pah-sta eh fazh-e-ohl-eh), a humble dish of pasta and beans. It's a traditional Italian soup with many variations, but its simplicity and affordability are a deception to the rich flavor it contains.
- 1 large white onion, topped + peeled + chopped
- 4 large carrots, scrubbed + peeled (if not organic) + diced
- 4 stalks celery, scrubbed + diced
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, sub butter
- Kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed + chopped
- ½ Tablespoon oregano leaves, dried
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, or to taste
- 1 Tablespoon basil, dried
- ¾ teaspoon thyme, ground
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1 pound Italian Sausage, hot or sweet, casings removed
- 1 can (28 ounces) San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed
- 6 cups (48 ounces) homemade chicken stock, sub favorite brand
- 3½ cups Cannellini or Navy beans soaked overnight, sub canned + rinsed
- 1 Parmesan cheese rind, optional but preferred
- 2 large bay leaves
Blitz the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in a food processor in separate batches. Making sure they are as close to a ½-inch dice as possible. Heat a Dutch Oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium low heat, add the olive oil reheat for 30 seconds and then add the onions, carrots and celery and season generously with Kosher sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Cook stirring often with a flat bottomed wooden spoon, until the vegetables start to sweat out some of their liquid about 10 minutes. Keep in mind low and slow, we don't want color, we just want to soften the soffritto.
Toss in the garlic, oregano, fennel seeds, basil, thyme, and red pepper flakes stir to combine, cover the pot and cook, stirring every 5 minutes (total of 20 minutes), until the vegetables are soft and savory. Reduce the heat if you notice the vegetables start to brown.
Turn up the heat to medium and add the sausage, breaking apart into bite sized pieces, and cook for 5 minutes.
Now pour in the tomatoes, chicken stock, beans, and bring to a medium boil (not super aggressive) gently stirring and add Parmesan cheese rind and bay leaves. Reduce the heat back to medium-low for a gentle simmer. Cover the pot so the lid is slightly cracked and cook until the beans are very tender. Anywhere from 1-3 hours depending on if you used soaked or canned beans. Remove the Parmesan cheese rind after cooking is complete.
While the soup cooks, bring a pot of heavily salted (Kosher sea salt) water to a rolling boil. Cook pasta till al dente, according to package directions. Drain and set aside. Don't be tempted to cook the pasta in the soup, unless you want a thick and gummy outcome! Cook them separately and save yourself the heartache of a ruined soup.
Divide pasta among bowls and top with soup, garnish with fresh grated Grana Padano, a drizzle of olive oil, fresh basil and Herbed Crackers or crusty bread for dipping if desired.
- Prep time is approximate a food processor makes fine dicing vegetables much faster!
- Cook pasta separately each time you serve, if you have leftovers store the pasta in an airtight container tossed with a little olive oil.
- Store leftover soup in the fridge up to 1 week.
- Freeze leftovers (without pasta) in an airtight container up to 6 months.