Here’s the rub. A dairy farmer, vegetarian, hunger activist, nutritionist, and your mother are coming to visit. So what’s for dinner? The answer for yours truly: you look to your Italian American roots. And you make pasta fazool.
Also known as pasta e fagioli, though I prefer the vernacular I grew up with. It’s what my mother made. It’s what Dean Martin sings about. It's when the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool.
This makes the dish sound fancy. But ‘scus-a-me, it’s actually peasant dish: with pasta, beans, and tomatoes as the base. (Which should make the vegetarian, hunger activist, and nutritionist quite happy.) A grate of pecorino over top satisfies the dairy farmer. And, bada-bing bada-boom, everyone is bene.
It’s cheap and simple. It’s morally responsible. But, most importantly, it’s homey enough to satisfy mama.
And in my family, mama made this often. It was a staple growing up, especially when dinner was needed asap. It was always welcomed, particularly when contrasted with the frozen fish sticks and chicken potpies that were supplemented when time was in extremely short supply. (The sight of Gorton the fisherman—in his yellow rain slicker—still sends shivers.)
This recipe is loosely based on my mother’s recipe, which was loosely based on my great grandmother’s recipe. And so what lingers is an interpretation of a classic dish. Feel free to adapt it as you see fit. In the end, it should be—at its simplest— a dish filled with love. Pasta love.
Mine features homemade pasta and dried beans. Your version may feature dried pasta and canned beans. This does not matter. What matters is that you put the passion in this dish. Shoot for a moon-hitting-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza pie kind of love. That’s pasta fazool. That’s amore.
~2-4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and pepper
28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp red chili flakes
1 cup cooked fresh homemade linguine (or 2 oz dry linguine)
~1 cup fresh basil leaves (very loosely packed), gently torn
2 cups cooked dried white beans (cannellini) or cranberry beans (borlotti) (or 2 cups canned)
Pecorino cheese, optional
Heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan on medium heat. Add onion, stir to coat in olive oil; cook until it begins to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add minced garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook about 2 minutes more until garlic has very slightly browned and onions are slightly translucent. Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, a little more salt and pepper, and stir to combine; continue to cook on medium heat.
Meanwhile, boil the water for the pasta (unless you have some in reserve that you have already cooked). Salt the pasta water and add the pasta once the water reaches a rolling boil. Meanwhile, add half the basil to the tomato mixture. Continue to cook the tomato mixture, turning down the heat if the sauce starts to spatter.
Once the pasta is done, strain out the water (you may want to reserve 1/2 cup pasta water to add back to the sauce to help the pasta cling). Add the beans, cooked pasta, and the rest of the basil to the saucepan with the tomato sauce and toss to combine. Drizzle ~1 tbsp over the mixture and gently stir. Taste and adjust for seasoning, if needed. Top with sprinkle of pecorino cheese, if desired.
Makes ~6 cups
-This recipe is super easy, makes great leftovers, and can be made in fewer than 30 minutes if you have all your ingredients ready to go. From college student to grandma, this dish can work wonders.
-My mom traditionally used white beans, however cranberry beans can occasionally be found at the farmers' markets here in Boston. If this is the case, you can use fresh beans instead of dried. (Unfortunately, fresh cranberry beans were nowhere to be found at the time of this recipe.) While dried beans will take ~1 hour to cook after they've been soaked overnight, fresh beans take much less time after you shell them. You can, of course, bypass all of this and simply get out your can opener.
-For my money, Muir Glen has the best canned tomatoes, but any dice will do you.
-The coup de grâce for the nutritionist: the vitamin C content of the tomatoes also makes the iron from the beans more easily absorbed.