Pasta e Fagioli started out life as a meatless peasant dish, and like many of the other peasant dishes I've posted in the past, there are as many variations as there are cooks that make this dish. Apparently in some dialects of Italian, fagioli is pronounced "fazuːl", which explains why it's known as Pasta Fazool here.
For my version, I wanted to strike a balance between the old world and new, so I've used the traditional borlotti beans, but I've also added meat to the peasant classic. It all starts off with a basic soffritto, which lays down the base layer of flavour for this stew (as well as most stews for that matter). Then, stock, tomatoes, meat, and beans go in until the beans are tender and the whole thing is a thick hearty consistency. It's finished with some short pasta and in this version I've used orecchiette. In keeping with old world traditions of letting nothing go to waste, the meat in this one is leftover meatloaf and I've also added some Parmesan rind to impart its nutty flavour into the stock.
- If you are using uncooked meat such as pancetta or Italian sausage, brown them first, transfer to a plate, then use the fat they release to make the soffritto.
- If you are use precooked meat or are making this vegetarian, add a generous splash of olive oil to a stock pot (about 2 Tbs).
- Fry the ingredients for the soffritto until soft and about halved in volume. This process deepens the flavour of the soffritto (aka mirepoix) through a Maillard reaction, which causes sugars in the veggies to react with amino acids to form new flavour compounds.
- Add the vermouth to the soffritto and cook until there is no liquid left. Add the chicken stock, chopped tomatoes, beans, Parmesan rind, basil, bay leaf and thyme. Allow this to simmer uncovered until the beans are tender (about 1 1/2 hours). If the soup start getting too thick, add a bit of water and continue cooking with a lid.
- When the beans are tender, taste for salt and add more if needed. Add the pasta and cook until tender, you may need to add a bit more water if the pasta absorbs too much. Serve with bread and a generous dusting of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.