Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool)

This is real comfort food for me. I went home last Thanksgiving, and my cousin made this one evening since her future daughter-in-law is a vegetarian. It was delicious, because Roseanne is a wonderful cook, but I had such a feeling of "home" as I ate it in that kitchen where I had eaten it so many times as a child. There are many recipes for this; you can make it with canned beans or dried, garbanzos (chick peas) or cannellini beans - they are all delicious.

One quick observation about Italian food here in America. American home cooks seem to LOVE to use something called Italian herbs. Now, just because it has the word "Italian" on the label does not mean that it is Italian in any way, you know. Italian herbs are delicious and have their uses, but they are too heavy on the oregano to be truly Italian. Real Italians use a lot of basil and lot of rosemary, but very little oregano. In fact, I think that Greek cooks use much more oregano than Italians, and so do Mexican cooks. So, refrain from using Italian herbs in this dish because it will be to heavily and sharply spiced with oregano.

Pasta e Fagioli

1 1/2 C dry beans, soaked overnight, or 2 - 15 oz cans, drained
3 Tbs olive oil
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp dried
1 tsp dry basil
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 - 15 oz can of diced tomatoes in juice
3 C vegetable broth
1 1/2 C pasta of your choice: try elbows, ditalini, small penne or rotini
salt and pepper to taste

To pressure cook: In pressure cooker, saute the celery, onion, carrot, and garlic in the olive oil till the onions begin to brown. Stir in the beans, herbs, tomatoes and broth. Place cover on the pressure, bring to high pressure, and cook for 15 minutes at 15 lbs. Let the pressure drop naturally. Check beans for doneness and pressure cook two or three minutes more if necessary. Don't overcook beans - they should retain their shape and still be firm, but cooked all the way through. When beans are cooked, stir in the dry pasta and cook uncovered for 6 or 7 minutes until the pasta is al dente.

To cook in a crock pot: Saute the vegetables as above and place in crock pot, along with the beans. Use only 2 1/2 C broth. Cook on hi heat and cook as follows: cannellini - 3 hours; great northern - 2 1/2 hours; navy - 3 hours, garbanzos - 4 hours. Cook the pasta separately and add to the mixture when beans are done, unless you have a metal crockpot liner that can go onto a burner as I do.

To cook on top of the stove: Proceed as for the pressure cooker, but gently simmer the beans, covered, as follows: cannellini - 60 minutes ; great northern - 45 minutes; navy - 60 minutes; garbanzos - 20 minutes.

To use canned or previously cooked beans: Saute the vegetables and proceed as for the pressure cooker, but leaving the beans out. Simmer for 10 - 15 minutes to let the flavors meld. Add the drained beans and the pasta at the same time, and simmer long enough for the pasta to be cooked al dente.

Serve garnished with a pinch of red pepper flakes and drizzle of your best cold pressed virgin olive oil. Serve a green salad and crusty bread on the side, along with a nice fruity wine. Fruit makes the perfect dessert.

Note: Occasionally when I'm too lazy to measure out three herbs, I use an equal amount of Herbes de Provence which is very yummy in this dish. You can also pressure cook beans without presoaking them, which I've done many, many times. It takes about 45 - 60 minutes for them to cook. Don't be afraid of the pressure cooker - I received one as a wedding present in 1979 and have used them ever since. Since then, I've replaced that old one with a modern Fagor, which is not only perfectly safe, but foolproof! In all these years, I've never, ever had any problems using a pressure cooker. You'll be amazed at quickly you can make dishes that used to take forever to cook, and how you can decide at the last minute to make a dish that tastes like its been simmering all day. Try it!

Serves four hungry Italians. Maybe it will serve 6, but it never has in my house.

Five stars PLUS!

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