My dad’s mom made pasta e fagioli, or pasta fazool in Italian-American lingo, long before it was a popular restaurant dish. It is the epitome of Italian-American comfort food.
Grandma Nappa made enormous size pots of this dish back when my dad was growing up. He was one of 12 kids, not to mention his small tribe of half brothers and sisters—oh, and first, second, and third cousins—plus great aunts and uncles who showed up for dinner. They had friends too.
Pasta e fagioli is pasta and beans with a dab of tomato, although it is one of those dishes that varies among families in its ingredients. My grandma and my parents like to use navy beans in their fazool, but I like the traditional cannellini beans.
Sometimes we add a scoop or two of leftover Sunday sauce instead of the tomato paste. If I don’t have leftover sauce, I like to use three or four canned plum tomatoes, crushed with my fingers, and then dropped into the simmering beans.
We generally use ditalini pasta, but any small pasta will do. Cook the pasta separately so that it doesn’t absorb all of the rich bean juice.
Traditionally, this is not a meat dish. If you add Sunday sauce, it’s possible that a few pepperoni or sausage will sneak in. My dad wanted to add a little Italian sausage today, so we browned it up separately and added it to the pasta mixture.
I like to add a healthy pinch of crushed red pepper to the olive oil and garlic.
Fazool can be served as a thick pasta and bean dish, but it’s most often served as a soup. Make sure you cook the beans with plenty of water if it’s soup you’re after. Either way, it’s good.
Pasta e Fagioli Recipe
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic finely minced
- pinch of crushed red pepper optional
- 1 pound of dried cannellini or navy beans
- 1½ cups uncooked ditalini or other small pasta
- Tomato paste Sunday sauce, or canned whole plum tomatoes
- Wash the beans and soak in water for several hours or overnight. Drain water. Add beans to a large stock pot and add enough generously salted water to cover the beans by about 2 inches. Bring the beans to a boil. Cover, then reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 2 hours. The bean liquid is the soup broth.
- In a medium size pot, bring about 6 cups of generously salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and reduce heat. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, and set aside.
- Heat oil in large stock pot, and add garlic and red pepper. When the garlic starts to cook, add tomatoes and stir well. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add 5 cups of beans, including the liquid. Mix well. Then add cooked pasta. Add salt as needed, and simmer for about 10 minutes. The pasta will eventually become soft. Add more bean liquid if you want the fazool to be soupy instead of thick.
Omit the sausage for the more traditional pasta e fagioli dish.