Bean soups are a hearty staple of winter cooking repertoire, but it’s the Italians who add pasta to theirs. Pasta e fagioli, a pasta and bean soup, is a tasty favorite, full of kitchen basics that, once combined, create a comforting marriage. Here, the soup features cranberry beans, not only because they’re pink-and-white pretty, but because they have a creamy texture after cooking. Prepared with salt pork, once the standard fare of sailors and settlers alike due to its long shelf life, the pork product, while similar to bacon in that it comes from fatty pork bellies, is less salty than you might think. To create it, the fat and little bit o’ meat that’s still attached is salted and stored, but the flavor is all together different from cured bacon. Rather than standing out and making a strong declaration that, “There is bacon in this dish!” salt pork is silky and subtle, and helps create a richly good mouthfeel. It just might be my new go-to for flavoring soups.
Pasta e Fagioli Soup Recipe
6 ounces lean salt pork, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 T olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1 large carrot, peeled, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 – 28 ounce can tomato purée (this is thicker than a tomato sauce, so look for a sauce that is chunky)
1 lb dried cranberry beans
Note: I recommend soaking beans overnight in cold water to shorten cooking time. Rinse and sort beans, removing any rocks. Place in large pot and cover with cold water 2 inches above beans. Let soak 6-8 hours, or overnight in refrigerator to prevent beans from sprouting. Drain water before proceeding.
4 cups low-salt chicken stock (I like Kitchen Basics)
4 cups water
1 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
4 cups chopped lacinato kale
Note: also called, “Tuscan kale,” this dark leafy variety is a regular in minestrone and other Italian dishes. It is less tough than curly kale, has a bit of sweetness to it, and loves to be simmered in soup.
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 cup ditalini, or other small pasta shape, prepared according to package directions and drained. Toss with olive oil to prevent sticking.
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grate Parmesan cheese to top, if desired
In 8 quart stock pot or Dutch oven, warm olive oil over medium high heat and render salt pork until it becomes lightly browned. Lower heat to medium and add onion, carrot, and garlic. Sauté until onion is translucent but not browned.
Add tomatoes, stirring to combine. Add beans, stock, water, and wine. Bring to boil, and cover, reducing heat to a simmer. Add oregano. Let cook for 2-3 hours on very low heat, stirring occasionally. Add liquid if necessary, if the beans aren’t softening.
Salt and pepper to taste.
For each serving: place 1/2 cup pasta in center of warmed, shallow bowl. Ladle soup on top of pasta to rim of bowl. Add grated Parmesan, if desired.
Mangia! Enjoy a taste of Italian comfort food, country style.
WineTwoFive wine educator Stephanie Davis told me that Oregon Pinot Noirs are some of the best in the world and can stand alone as pure liquid pleasure, or partner with a meal. Ken Wright Cellars is an Oregon producer she continues to appreciate and loves to see the label on wine by-the-glass lists. She recently enjoyed it on Valentine’s Day at The Farm House at Jessup Farm in Fort Collins, and thinks it would be the perfect glass to swirl and enjoy with this warm, inviting soup.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.