Pasta e Fagioli

In the song That’s Amore, Dean Martin sings “When the stars make you drool, just like a pasta fazool, that’s amore”.

Pasta Fazool. So how did fagioli become fazool? Because, while the Italian word for beans is fagioli, the Neapolitan word is fasule. To make it even more fun, the Sicilian word is fasola. In Venetian, it is fasioi.

Many people do not realize that Italy is a country of dialects that were more or less united under a common language – Tuscan – in 1861 when Italy was unified. It wasn’t, however, until television in the 1950s and ’60s that Italy actually started speaking the same language – more or less. In rural areas and even within families, dialects still reign supreme.

In the Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey area, it’s common for the final vowel – always pronounced in Italian – to be dropped. It’s also why it is often so difficult to find a recipe for a specific family dish based on what the family has called it or to find a dozen different names for the same basic recipe – the immigrants literally created a new language based upon all of their different dialects so they could communicate with one another. It is also believed that the “sauce / gravy” debate has its roots in early immigrant communication, but that’s a story for another place and time.

And they say English is difficult to learn…

Regardless of what it’s called, Pasta and Beans is a peasant dish served throughout Italy – sometimes with tomatoes, sometimes, not. Sometimes with meat, sometimes not. Sometimes thick, sometimes thin. A million variations on a theme – just the way I like to cook!

This is a dish I probably haven’t had in 20 years. We were both trying to remember the last time either of us made it – and we’re pretty sure it was in California – not Pennsylvania. That’s a while ago.

And the whole thing started when an online friend of ours posted a picture and a recipe for Pasta e Fagioli that looked so good that we knew we had to make it! Michael is a great cook who delves into his Italian heritage to create some pretty spectacular dishes. We’re always getting ideas. Tonight, however, we decided to follow his recipe and recreate his masterpiece – and masterpiece, it is!

Victor used fresh cannellini beans because I canned beans this morning, and we used the chicken stock I canned last week. Otherwise, this is the recipe we made!

Pasta e Fagioli

recipe by Michael Gottuso

Set up your food processor. Chop: 2 onions, 2 carrots (peeled first), 1 celery stalk, and 4 garlic cloves. Add them to the process bowl. Pulse until medium-fine chopped – DO NOT PUREE.

Add the chopped vegetables and 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to a sauce pot. Season with a bit of salt and saute the vegetables until they turn soft – over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Do not let them turn brown.

Stir in 2 tablespoons tomato paste and peperoncino (crushed red pepper) to taste and cook for a minute or two, stirring. Then pour in a quart container of sodium-free chicken broth.

Drain two cans of cannellini beans and rinse them. Add half of the beans and 1 cup water to the processor bowl and pulse till the beans are pureed. Add the bean puree along with the remaining beans to the sauce pot. Bring it to a simmer and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

Stir in 1 cup ditalini and continue to simmer till the pasta is cooked, about 15 minutes.

Stir occasionally to ensure that the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom. Turn the heat off. Stir in 1 cup grated parmigiano cheese and a small handful of torn fresh basil leaves. Set aside for about 1/2 hour. When serving, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve with parmigiano and peperoncino.

Rich, thick, creamy – bursting with flavor. This is fall and winter food at its finest.

Thanks, Michael!