When I think about Italian comfort food, pasta é fagioli (pasta with beans) is on the top of my list. I call it food to hibernate by. Pasta é fasoli, as Sicilians call it, is a humble, earthy and hearty dish that is a staple of most Italian kitchens. It is simple to make but requires some hours of preparation time.
My mother taught me to use baking soda when cooking dried beans to tenderize them and shorten the cooking time. There’s some debate about the effectiveness of adding baking soda to dried beans when cooking or soaking them. I’ve made beans before without the aid of baking soda and they took hours to cook and never really got soft. In my opinion, baking soda is a must for cooking dried beans.
PASTA WITH BEANS
(Pasta é Fasoli- Pasta é Fagioli)
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1/2 pound dried cranberry, barloti, or kidney beans
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
Ground black pepper
1 pound orecchette, ditalini, or cut pasta
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
1. SOAK THE BEANS: Place the beans in a large bowl, cover with 3-inches of cold water. Allow the beans to soak for a minimum of 6 hours, preferably overnight.
2. COOK THE BEANS: Drain and rinse the beans. Heat the olive oil in a large pot, over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add carrots and celery, cook 2 minutes longer. Add 3 1/2 cups of water, beans, and baking soda. Cover and cook 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper. Cook 1/2 hour to 1 hour longer, until beans are tender. Using a potato masher, mash some of the beans to slightly thicken the liquid.
3. COOK THE PASTA: Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Drain pasta and place in a large serving bowl. Stir in the beans. If the pasta mixture seems too thick, add some of the pasta water to thin it to desired consistency. Serve in individual bowls topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
*Tips for cooking orecchette pasta or other pasta successfully:
> Use a large pot and plenty of water
> Make sure you add enough salt to the water
> Bring water to a hard boil before adding pasta
> Stir continuously during the initial cooking and occasionally thereafter so the pasta doesn’t stick