I'm letting out one of Nanny's best kept secrets, her Pasta e Fagioli. It's pronunciation has morphed over the years of children and grandchildren into the endearing term, Pasta Fazool. If you love the rustic Italian flavors of parsley, garlic, potatoes, and white beans, you will love this. My dad always called it the soup of peasants, though I dare say it is worthy of lords.
My Nanny is 100% Italian. I would describe her as a romantic grandmother--beautiful, passionate, religious, generous, and exuberant. She always seems to be in love with something, whether it's a new pair of shoes, or a song, or an apricot pastry. She may not claim to be an artist, but she is one, and food is her medium. She treats each recipe as if it were a being of it's own, a creation outside of herself--like a writer and her novel. Nanny always calls food by its title, never saying, "I'm making meatballs," but, "I'm making The Meatballs."
At Christmas two years ago, she gave everyone in the family a cookbook, put together with Poppop's help, containing the family recipes that, if not written down, might otherwise be lost--the pizza fritas, the stuffed cabbage, the marinara sauce, the gnocchi...the Pasta Fazool. There are 70 of them, and I'll be sharing my personal favorites from time to time.
Everyone's pasta fazool will turn out a little differently. Brandon and I like ours a little thicker than most. The recipe calls for one potato. I add two. It calls for 1/4 parmesan cheese. I add a third. It calls for 1 cup of chopped parsley. I usually add a full bunch. Italian parsley is best. Look for the darkest, least wilted bunch. (If you're like me, wilted parsley is the bane of your weekly shopping trip.) Also, I use ditalini pasta, not ziti, but you can use either. This soup will be at its best a day after you make it.
A word of caution: The salt will make or break this recipe. Under salted it's good, but nothing like what you'll experience if this dish is salted just right. The salt will truly unlock the flavors. Over salted, it's just inedible.
Here's the recipe:
2 15 oz. cans Cannellini Beans---do not drain
1/2 c olive oil
6 large garlic cloves
1 c chopped parsley
1 1/2 c diced celery
1 c white wine
1 medium baking potato, cubed
1/2 lb ziti
salt, pepper, oregano, basil (fresh or dried)
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
Put olive oil into a 6-qt. pot and bring to medium heat.
Add chopped garlic, cook until golden (about 1 min.)
Add parsley, saute 4 - 5 min. on low heat--do not burn.
Add celery and saute 3 - 4 min.
Add white wine, salt, pepper, oregano, basil.
Add 2 cups of water.
Add potato and simmer 15 - 20 min. until potato is tender.
Crush some of the potato with a fork against the side of the pot and stir.
Add the beans and scrape cans with a rubber spatula to get all of the juice.
With a fork, mash a few more pieces of potato and some beans to thicken the soup.
Add the parm. cheese and simmer 3 minutes more.
In a different pot filled with water and 1 tsp. salt, boil pasta.
To serve: place some pasta in a soup bowl and ladle the soup over it. Top each serving with parmesan cheese.
The book reads at the bottom of the page: "This is one of Poppop's favorites and is positively the best of all the pasta fagiolis he has ever tasted."