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Italian Bean and Pasta Soup

When the weather is cool and you feel like staying indoors, it's time to make pasta e fagioli, a favorite Italian meal in a bowl. It can be brothy or quite thick, depending upon personal taste. Cooking the pasta separately from the soup helps the pasta maintain its texture. If you have made the soup in advance, add the cooked pasta when reheating the soup, as the pasta can become mushy if it stands too long in the soup.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried cranberry, cannellini or other small
      white beans
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped pancetta
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 cups water or chicken stock, or as needed
  • 1 1/2 cups diced canned plum tomatoes
  • 2 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 lb. small dried pasta, such as shells or
      ditalini
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for serving
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

Directions:

Pick over the beans and discard any misshapen beans and stones. Rinse the beans, drain and place in a saucepan. Add water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain.

In a Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pancetta and sauté, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the water, beans, tomatoes and 2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beans are very tender, about 1 hour.

To give the soup more body, remove 2 large spoonfuls of beans and vegetables and puree in a blender or food processor, then return the puree to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and reheat gently.

When the soup is almost ready, bring a large saucepan three-fourths full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta, stir well and cook until barely al dente (tender but firm to the bite), about 8 minutes or according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and add it to the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes more.

To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Top each serving with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil, some grated cheese and a generous grinding of pepper.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Soup for Supper, by Joyce Goldstein (Time-Life Books, 1998).