Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pasta e Fagioli

We are seeing little hints that Spring is just around the corner. Buds are suddenly appearing on the long-barren branches of our many trees; colorful bulbs are bursting their way through our winter-hardened soil; rays of sunshine are intermittently peaking through our (too often) cloud-laden skies; birds are slowly returning from their southern destinations to serenade us with the morning dawn; and, we've actually had a few consecutive days of downright balmy weather (in the upper 50's!!).

I love to witness these little whispers of Springtime. And while I know it's only the beginning of March (and we can still have a few cold snaps into May), there is something comforting about seeing the change of seasons...each offering its own language and landscape to distinguish it from the next.

Today, however, the temps dropped a bit and the skies delivered a little sprinkle...just enough to keep us from getting too overly eager. Rather than let this little drizzle dampen my spirits, I figured it simply allowed me the opportunity for a little "pasta fazool."

Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans) is a great comfort dish that beautifully straddles the soup-stew-pasta categories...falling into one or the other depending on how much broth, pasta, or beans you add. It is a traditional Italian "peasant" dish that doesn't call for meat (if you are being true to its origin) but many recipes seem to start with a bit of pancetta or bacon...a great addition, in my opinion, as it really gives this dish a lot of its rich hearty flavor. And while many recipes have the same key ingredients -- garlic, carrots, celery, onion, tomatoes, beans, and water (or stock) -- I love to add a bit of a sturdy green...lacinato kale in this instance. Whether you incorporate kale, spinach, or some other green, I think it not only adds to the beauty and flavor of the soup but, more importantly, to its "healthy" quotient.

So while we are eagerly awaiting the true arrival of Spring...or at least a good number of Spring-like days linked in a row...the intermittent drizzle and cloudy skies that continue to appear just mean that a hearty dish like this Pasta e Fagioli can be enjoyed. So...let it rain!

Pasta e Fagioli
A Savory Nest recipe
serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces (about 4 to 5 strips) turkey bacon (I used an organic, uncured, smoked turkey bacon but pancetta or regular bacon can be substituted)
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
3/4 cup celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
2 15-ounce cans Great Northern white beans (cannellini or any other small white bean), rinsed and drained
1 14-ounce can diced, no-salt, tomatoes with their juice
4 cups chicken broth (vegetable stock or water)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 stalks of lacinato kale (or other sturdy green), chopped (omitting last bits of hard stalk)
3/4 pound small pasta (ditalini or elbow...I used orecchiette)
extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing
grated parmesan cheese, for finishing

1. In a large dutch oven or stock pot, heat olive oil and add turkey bacon. Sauté bacon for 3 to 5 minutes, to brown. Add onion, carrots, celery, garlic, parsley, and basil and cook, stirring often, until veggies have softened. Add beans, tomatoes, broth, salt, and pepper. Simmer stock for approximately 20 minutes. Then take 2 to 3 ladles of soup and whirl it in a blender. Add blended soup back to stock base.

2. Once you've added blended soup back to stock, add greens and pasta. Simmer soup for another 20 to 30 minutes to allow pasta and greens to cook through. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, drizzle with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.

Note: you may need to add additional stock or water, as soup will thicken as it sits a bit.

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