Here is the recipe for my most favorite soup of all time. It is a long process with many steps and a perfect project for a cold winter day when you just don’t want to be outside. My recipe is traditional and one I have been making for many years.
You will notice that I do not soak the beans. The reason for skipping this step is that I found by not soaking the beans the skin of the beans will split open creating a much creamier soup. This eliminates the necessity of pureeing a portion of the beans to get that creamy texture. I found that when I cook my bean soup slowly and stir often the beans become creamy on their own.
Never salt the beans when they are cooking. If you salt them too early they cook up just a little too mealy and loose their creamy texture.
Do not add the cooked pasta to the soup until ready to serve. If you add the pasta too early, or cook it in the soup too long, it will suck up all of the moisture and the soup will be too thick. So, I suggest you cook only the amount of pasta you will need at the moment. Add the cooked pasta to the soup when hot.
The finished product will be not thick and not soupy – somewhere in between. The soup thickens up on its own even when it is sitting on the counter cooling. If it is too thick for your liking, just add a little stock when reheating.
I like to top off a bowl of Pasta Fagioli with parmesan cheese or, to make it really special, add a dollop of Pesto just before serving. You can also drizzle a little XVOO on top of that wonderful bowl of Pasta Fagioli.
So there you have it. A few tips and hints that I find really important and know for sure work.
Makes about 6 Quarts
For the Beans
2 14 Ounce Bags Dried Cannelini Beans (White Kidney Beans)
For the Ham Stock
1 Whole Ham Bone, Meat Removed, Diced and Reserved for Soup (Leave the fat on the bone)
1 Large Onion, Skin Left On, Cut Into Quarters
4 Carrots, Skin Left On, Cut Into Half
6 Celery Stalks with Leaves, Cut Into Half
6 Garlic Cloves, Left Whole
2 Bay Leaves
1 Teaspoon Whole Black Peppercorns
2 Cups Cooked Ham, Diced
1 Lb. Pancetta, Rind Removed and Diced
2 Cups Spanish Onion, Diced (About 1 Large Onion)
2 Cups Celery, Diced
2 Cups Carrots, Diced
6 Garlic Gloves, Finely Minced
4 Cups Russet Potato, Peeled, Diced
1 35 Ounce Can Plum Tomatoes, Drained, Chopped, Juice Reserved
2 Tablespoons XVOO
3 Teaspoons Course Sea Salt
2 Teaspoons Freshly Ground Black Pepper
½ Teaspoons Crush Red Pepper
6 Cups Ham Stock or Homemade Chicken Stock or Low Sodium Chicken Broth
4 Cups Bean Cooking Water
1 Cup Reserved Tomato Juice
1 Bouquet Garni
Cooked Ditalini Pasta
To Cook the Beans
Rinse the beans and pick them over to remove any stones or dirt that may be present. Place the beans in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, and cover with cold water by about three inches. Bring the beans and water to a boil, cover with a lid, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 1 to 1½ hours. You will know when the beans are cooked when they a not crunchy or hard when bitten into.
Remove the beans from the heat and drain reserving the liquid. Rinse the beans and set aside.
To Make the Ham Stock
While the beans are cooking make the stock. Place all of the stock ingredients in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, and cover with cold water. Bring the stock to a boil, cover with a lid, reduce heat to simmer and cook for at least 1 to 1½ hours. Remove from the heat, drain the stock into a bowl and discard the vegetables. Set aside.
For the Bouquet Garni
In a double layer of cheese cloth, place two bay leaves, several sprigs of fresh parsley, basil, thyme, oregano and sage. Gather the edges of the cheesecloth to form a pouch like parcel and tie the pouch with kitchen twine.
To Make the Pasta Fagioli
In a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium heat, heat the XVOO and add the Pancetta. Cook the Pancetta until the fat is rendered and the Pancetta just starts to crisp. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and gently sauté the vegetables until the onion begins to become translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and sauté the vegetables for 5 minutes more. Add the plum tomatoes, the tomato juice, the ham stock and the bean water. Add the cooked beans, diced ham, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil and add the bouquet garni. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue to cook for 1½ hours stirring often to be sure the mixture does not burn or stick to the bottom of the pot. (I like to cook the soup with a lid half way on the pot. This helps to keep the soup from reducing too much.) Taste the soup for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
When ready to serve, heat the amount of soup needed and add as much of the cooked Ditalini as you like.
Although the recipe is long and at first read it may seem daunting, don’t let it get in the way of how easy it really is to make.