Noodles and Beans

Last night, I posted a ‘bits and pieces’ entry that amounted to post-it note-sized blurbs. One of them mentioned the dish that I grew up calling “Basta Fazool” (and note – the b in basta is barely a b – it’s not quite a p, though…if you haven’t heard Southern Italian accents filtered through New Jersey, you will NOT understand this sound. But there it is.) Progresso makes a canned version, but it’s so salty it’s really scary (this is a problem with MOST canned soups, actually). If you want to be all proper, the correct name of the dish is ‘paste e fagioli,’ where really just means ‘noodles and beans’.

I don’t usually surf the net looking for recipes when I’m making something I grew up with, but I did last night, and found that the version of Basta Fazool that I grew up with, which is meatless, is not the standard version. Apparently it’s much more common to use chicken stock as a base, and include bacon or pancetta in the soup. I don’t do this, but Laura who has a groovous blog called Cucina Testa Rossa does, and the recipe she uses can be found in this entry.

My own recipe is in the extended entry.

I don’t generally measure when I cook. So I’m not going to try.

Garlic – one head, minced. Don’t use jarred minced garlic, it tastes like sawdust.
One large or two small yellow onions.
Black pepper, basil, and oregano, to taste.
2 15-oz cans of canellini beans, including brine (using the brine from the beans eliminates the need to add salt and helps thicken the soup)
Tomato puree, or stewed tomatoes. I like the small tetra-paks of Pomi. Alternatively, you can use high-quality marinara sauce, but, that’s cheating, and changes the flavor.
One package macaroni or other small hollow pasta (I used mostaciolli last night), prepared according to package – reserve the water after cooking.

Loose instructions:
Set pasta to boil following package instructions. Keep the water when you get to the draining point. As the pasta is going in a soup, you REALLY don’t want to cook it past the ‘al dente’ point.

Drizzle virgin olive oil into the bottom of a large stock pot. Let it heat while you dice the onions and mince the garlic, then toss them into the pot, and begin sauteeing. When the onions are the color of straw, add the cans of beans, with their brine, and then black pepper, oregano, and basil. I cook intuitively, so tend to know how much is enough when the smell is right. Totally unhelpful, I know.

When the beans have come to a boil, lower the heat, and stir in the tomato puree. A dash of lemon juice is a good addition at this point (like sugar, lemon helps cut the acid of tomato sauce, offering a flavor that is less ‘raw’). Let this simmer, while you drain the pasta, which should be ready by the time you’ve gotten this far.

Stir the pasta into the simmering sauce, then add about two cups of the reserved pasta water. Stir, cover, and let simmer for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. If it gets too thick, you can add more water…

You *can* serve this right away (It’s best with very rustic bread and a green salad), but it’s even better if you let it cool, store it, and reheat it the next day, because the pasta has time to really absorb the flavors. When serving, grated parmesan cheese and parsley are the optimal garnishes.

It should be noted, that this version, lacking meat, can be a little bland, so the more garlic, and the longer it stews, the better. The meat was removed to make it an appropriate dish for Lent (back when meat was given up for all forty days, not just on Fridays). The recipes that include meat are incredibly tasty and satisfying, with the exception of the stuff served at The Olive Garden, which is just extremely scary and salty.