Oct 13, 2010

Recipe of the Week: Pasta e Fagioli

Soup weather has arrived, and that's a good thing - afternoon swim practices start this week, keeping us at the pool until 6 pm, four nights a week.   Soups, stews and slow cooker recipes will dominate our weeknight menu until sometime after the holidays.

I first sampled Pasta e Fagioli at Olive Garden and it is still my favorite when I opt for their soup-and-salad-and-breadsticks.  For the uninitiated, this soup's name means "pasta and beans" and is pronounced "pasta fa-ZHOOL."  Traditionally a meatless peasant stew, the modern renderings have introduced meat and tomatoes, making it a little more like American chili, but with a definite Italian twist.  This recipe is a copycat version of Olive Garden's and is incredibly easy to make with a few pantry staples.  It can be tailored to your preference for a spicy or mild taste (just choose hot, medium or mild Rotel) and leftovers reheat nicely. Serve with some good bread sticks, a little fresh-grated Parmesan cheese on top, and enjoy!

Pasta e Fagioli

1 pound lean ground beef
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (1-2 tablespoons)
1 can white beans (Canellini or Northern), drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 jar mushroom and pepper pasta sauce (any brand will work)
1 cup chicken broth
1 can Rotel tomatoes (mild, medium or hot - your choice)
1 cup celery, sliced
1 cup julienned carrots (I cheat and buy the bagged julienne or matchsticks)
3/4 cup uncooked ditalini or other small tube pasta

In large stock pot, brown beef with onion; drain.  Add garlic, beans, pasta sauce, broth, tomatoes and celery.  Bring to boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for an hour or until celery is tender.  Add carrots and continue simmering.  At the same time, cook pasta separately until al dente.  Drain and add pasta to soup just before serving, stirring through to mix well.

Additional notes:
Like most of my recipes, I've experimented with the scale and cooking methods for this soup.  I found it can easily be doubled for a crowd, and/or it can be prepared in a slow cooker (brown the beef and onion in a skillet, drain, then add everything to the crockpot and simmer on low for 4 hours, or high for 1-2 hours.)  The flavors meld better if it's made ahead and refrigerated overnight before reheating to serve, but the pasta can get mushy.  So if you're making it the night before serving, hold off on cooking the pasta until you're ready to reheat and serve, or at least keep the cooked pasta separate and add to the soup just before serving.

Happy soup-ing!