Pasta e fagioli is a popular dish in Italy, but usually consists of a fairly soupy-type dish, similar to my Pasta e ceci. The recipe I present here it different: it’s a dry pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce. I’m not sure where this recipe came from, but I suspect Calabria may have something to do with it.
There was a period in my life, not the happiest one of my life but it did have its ups too, when I would drop into my favourite pub on my way home from work of a Friday evening for a number of pints of the black stuff. Naturally this was on an empty stomach (particularly empty considering that I didn’t usually have lunch or breakfast in those days either). Now, they say about Guinness that there’s atin’ and dhrinkin’ on it. Bollocks. The result of the evening, apart from a certain unsteadiness on the feet, was invariably a ferocious appetite. So by the time I struggled home on the last train, I would have eaten the hind legs off a horse. Had there been one handy, of course.
But the long, ardous journey home was made bearable by the thought that in all probability, the long-suffering woman to whose care I was at the time entrusted had a large pot of pasta e fagioli (that’s pasta with beans to you lot) waiting for me to heat up and devour. And devour it I did, relishing the feeling as it slowly (well, not that slowly) filled up the bag and went to restoring me to some sort of normality.
So to cut a long story short, this dish is a filler, the product of some sort of culinary cement mixer that churns out absolutely delicious fodder. This is not haut cuisine. It is not even bas cuisine. It is get-something-into-you-before-you-keel-over cuisine. And it’s as simple as ABC, so you can get your non-cooking partner to work on it, or use it as a training method with your children. And when it’s all overand the pot is scraped clean, I bet you’ll be saying “Now that’s what I call filling!”.
- 1 tin of cannellini beans
- 4 slices of onion, finely chopped
- half a small dried chili pepper
- 350g of tomato passato (half a bottle of sieved tomato)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 200g of pipe rigate/lumache or mezze maniche at a push
Put your finely chopped onion (onion afficionados can use up to half a medium onion if they like) in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and add a few squirts of olive oil (about 3 or 4 tbsp) together with your chili, cut or shredded into pieces (heat maniacs can use a whole chili or even 2, but this is not supposed to be a spicy dish). Bring it to a bubble, lower the heat, cover and cook on the lowest possible heat for about 5 minutes, until the onion is nice and soft.
Now add the tomato together with a quarter of a glass of water and a healthy pinch of salt (healthy, not heavy-handed!). Stir it all up, bring to the bubble (it should look like boiling lava or mud pools), then lower to minimum, cover and allow to cook gently for about an hour, or even less if you have the munchies or are really in a hurry. Do stir it from time to time. Apart from giving you an excuse to taste it, it willhelp to stop the thing from sticking to the bottom of the pan (though if your pan really does have a thick bottom, it shouldn’t). If it looks a bit dry, feel free to add a spot of water. Whiskey works too.
While the tomato is cooking, feel free to get stuck into the crossword, do a bit of gardening, take the dog for a spin, etc. But make sure someone is on hand to stir the sauce every 5-10 mins or so!
Another thing you could occupy yourself with is the beans. Now tinned beans pretty much look after themselves, but they need rinsing. So, out with your colander, bung the beans in and rinse away all the gunge. Talking of beans, if you can’t get cannellini beans, I suppose at a pinch you could use baked beans, but do rinse the tomato sauce off them as it would alter the flavour of the finished dish completely. Also, I find that borlotti, butter beans and the whole range of exotic black, blue and greater-spotted beans available, just don’t produce the same result. So, do your best to find cannellini.
Back to business. When the tomato sauce is thoroughly cooked (neither runny, nor melted-chocolate thick), add the beans, stir through, cover and heat through.
At this stage, stick on your pot of water for the pasta. Cook as per descriptions elsewhere on this site and after you’ve drained it stick it back in the pot, throw in the bean sauce, stir it all up and serve. You can thank me later.