We’ve passed the mid-way mark of January, and hopefully that resolution most of us made to “eat more healthy foods” is still intact.
Thanks to cooking shows, food magazines and the internet, the image of “healthy food” is no longer represented by a plate of cold carrots and celery stalks. Nowadays we know that healthy food can be downright delicious and comforting, even in the cold and dreary months of winter.
This particular recipe for pasta e fagioli – pasta and beans – is one that fulfills the requirements for “comfort foods” on all fronts: it’s rich and warm and delicious.
Most of the traditional recipes for pasta e fagioli are bacon or pancetta-based, but if you use lots of fresh herbs and vegetables, you truly won’t miss the pork fat. Shake the tradition up a little further: instead of using the ditalini pasta that is found in most pasta e fagioli dishes, use orecchiette pasta. The Italian word “orecchiette” translates to “little ears”, and the saucer-like shape of the pasta will beautifully cradle the beans, vegetables and herbs in the finished dish.
You can, and should, be a little naughty and top it off with freshly grated cheese. A tiny bit of decadence never hurt anyone, after all.
Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 ribs celery, diced
• 3 carrots, diced
• 5 cloves garlic, minced
• Salt and pepper
• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
• 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
• 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
• 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
• 1 or 2 bay leaves
• 2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
• 2 14.5-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
• 8 ounces marinara sauce
• ½ lb. orecchiette pasta
In a deep stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the onion, celery, and carrots. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add in the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the herbs and the chicken stock. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.
Add the beans and the marinara sauce; adjust seasoning if needed. Turn up the heat so that the ingredients come to a boil, and add the pasta. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat and cover the pot.
Let the mixture rest for at least 10 minutes, preferably a little longer. The soup will thicken upon standing.
Remove bay leaves, and ladle into deep soup or pasta bowls. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and basil, freshly ground pepper and grated cheese.