When I was but a tyke I remember my grandmom making Pasta Fagioli for my Grandfather all the time. Her version was very Italian-American (and so was she, for that matter), and I have read about or tasted dozens of variations. that’s what makes a recipe classic I think- endless diversity therein through endless variations.
Lately we have had been slacking in the vegetable department. Elizabeth has always been a hard sell on veggies, although over the last decade I have slowly gained ground in this matter. Above is a vegetarian preparation of a delicious Zuppa di Pasta a Fagioli that we have come to love. The recipe follows:
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 large (2 small) carrot, chopped
- 1 bulb of fennel, chopped- fronds reserved! (see below)
- 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 6 cups of stock- Vegetable or chicken stock is nice- get the good kind (we like Kitchen Basics)!
- a few springs of fresh thyme and one or two of rosemary, tied together if you like
- 14.5 oz can chick peas, drained and rinsed
- 3/4 cup orzo
- chopped parsley
- (at least) 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese to top
Those of you well-studied in the soup method know that the first step is always sweating the veggies. Add the onion, celery, carrot and fennel to a pot with a tbsp of olive oil over low heat for 5 minutes until the onion is translucent. For the fennel, cut off the stalks leaving only the bulb. Remove the outer layer and the core at the bottom and chop like an onion. Keep the stalks handy. When the veggies are almost done, add the garlic.
The next step is adding the liquid and bringing to a boil. Since the chick peas are pretty hardy you can add them now too along with the thyme, rosemary and fennel stalks. Tie the herbs together to make fishing them out later easier, if you want. Sometimes I get weirded out by the idea of twine simmering in my soup. The fennel stalks are too tough to eat but they’ll infuse the soup with anisey essence.
Once a boil is attained, turn down the heat to medium-heat and keep a strong simmer going. Add the pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes, until your desired pasta doneness. If you’re feeling very intrepid, lower the heat slightly as the pasta cooks to keep form losing too much liquid from the pot during boiling. Remove the spent herb twigs and the fennel stalks. Top with parsley, perhaps a squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
One final note: Soups, like stews, are usually better in the days following cooking. Therefore, this is an excellent meal to make ahead and keep throughout the week for consumption on a busy night or making your co-workers jealous at lunch. Remember to reheat thoroughly. I recommend 6 cups of stock because as the soup sits, the pasta slowly absorbs additional liquid. However, you still may find the need to add a splash of water upon reheating. Moreover, if you’re making it solely to eat later in the week, shave one of two minutes off the pasta cook time to prevent water-logging it later on. Good eating!