Oh, for the love of legumes...
In just 8 days I will be back in the land of pasta. A place that knows no Atkins, speaks of no "carbs," and has no South Beach. This is a magical land where good boys and girls must eat a plate of pasta every day, lest they throw whole digestive tracts into an uproar. Yes, I am speaking of Italy. This is the country where I have frequently been asked with an astounded curiosity, "Tracie, is it true that in America you eat without bread?"
Well, be afraid no more! Eat your pasta and eat it with beans! OH carbs upon carbs of delight!! In my previous post, I mentioned a very typical winter dish, pasta e fagioli (pronounced fah-JOH-lee). I'm not talkin' about the one you used to eat on your high school dates at The Olive Garden. (Oh shut up, you know you did!) This is the real deal. It's delicious, home-made, and will make you want to live in Italy.
I'm not going to give a recipe, just a concept. In Italy, or in my experience in the south, all members of the legume family get the same treatment. Every pot starts with a "sofrito" of carrot, celery, and onion (about 1:1:2). They also throw in a few cherry tomatoes, a healthy dose of olive oil (do I need to specify extra virgin?) and let it all cook down and get a bit caramelized. Now here is where I insert my Texan ignorance of the Italian law. I throw in some garlic too. (Don't tell Italy, it would faint from the idea of aromatic overkill if it knew that I made something with onion AND garlic! BUT, everybody loves it.) Besides, garlic is good for you. You can also put some pancetta in the sofrito, but that's optional. After it's been cooked down, add enough water (or chicken broth if you want) to cover your beans by a few inches. Let it all cook until the beans are tender, and add salt to taste. (You can make a big batch and refrigerate or freeze what you don't use now.) And please, for the love of the patron saint of the Italian Kitchen, don't try this with canned beans, it will not taste the same. Although the cooking time is long for beans, the active time is quite small. Don't be afraid...
At this point, it's time for the pasta.
Let's talk about pasta. The Italians I know are very persnickety about which pasta goes with what. (And by "persnickety," I mean dogmatic, specific, and inflexible.) In Naples, pasta e fagioli is generally eaten with the mixed-cut pasta, although I have seen it with the short tubes in other parts of Italy. These 2 suggestions go for pasta with canellini beans. If you were making pasta con lenticchie (pasta with lentils, yum), you would probably use ditalini. Or if you were to make pasta con ceci (pasta with chickpeas, my favorite), and you were from Naples, you would probably use broken fettucine or spaghetti, but I am a rebel and use the short tubes mentioned above. They are much more fun to eat and every now and then, a chickpea gets stuck inside a tube. Che sfizio! There is nothing more fun than that. (NOTE: This is the only time when breaking long pasta would be even remotely acceptable! And it must be broken into 2 inch pieces for goodness sake.) Whatever you choose, put it in the boiling pot with the beans (one box is good for 4 people) and make sure that there is enough liquid to cover the pasta and beans by about an inch or 2. Now all you have to do is keep stirring until the pasta is cooked, al dente please, and plate it. Drizzle a little olive oil on top, throw on a little parsley, and cover it all with some Parmiggiano Reggiano.
Are you in heaven yet?