I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Hopefully you can handle this.
Here goes: I keep a journal.
Okay, it’s not a real journal. I don’t gush about my hopes and dreams, but rather a little notebook I carry with me to record dishes and flavor combinations I want to prepare.
Essentially, I like to write down ideas when the inspiration strikes so I don’t forget them later. These can range from a dish I’m enjoying at a restaurant that I want to try to recreate (i.e. zucchini rolls with macadamia nut filling), to a recipe I read in a magazine, to a funky smell wafting through the air as I walk down the street.
The third item on the never-ending list is pasta e fagioli, a Tuscan white bean soup traditionally made with pancetta although I usually use bacon instead. I think I added it after visiting family in Florida last Thanksgiving. For some reason pasta e fagioli is really popular in south Florida and I eat so much of it when I’m there that I pretty much get my fill for the year. Just like I only eat salmon burgers on vacation, but I’ll save that story for another time.
Back to the “journal.” Every so often when I read the list – and hopefully cross a few things off – I think how nice a thick, rich, steaming bowl of pasta e fagioli would be on a chilly day. I mentally slated it for late October when the weather would be turning cold.
Well, the weather dude seemed to have a different idea and it got pretty cold this month, so I figured now was as good a time as any to make pasta e fagioli.
But I did discover a silver lining to making pasta e fagioli in August: it’s the perfect time of year to use really incredible fresh tomatoes. Just look at the size of these tomatoes I picked up at the famer’s market, they’re more than 1 pound each!
Here’s the recipe:
Pasta e Fagioli - serves 6 to 8
2 strips bacon, diced
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups peeled, seeded and diced fresh or canned tomatoes (about 2 pounds), fresh tomato juice reserved*
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained, divided
1 quart chicken broth
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups ditalini pasta
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon fresh basil, torn
Set a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and olive oil and cook until the bacon is just crisp, about 5 minutes. Stir in the onions and carrots and cook for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes and 1/2 cup cannellini beans. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes release their juices and the beans become soft. Decrease the heat to low and use a potato masher to mash the beans and tomatoes until well-blended but not smooth.
Add the remaining beans, chicken broth, rosemary and bay leaf and increase the heat to high until the liquid just reaches a boil. Add reserved tomato juice from fresh tomatoes (strain out the seeds first). Decrease the heat to low and hold warm.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook the ditalini according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and mix it into the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the torn basil just before serving.
* If using fresh tomatoes, the easiest way to remove the skin is to blanch and shock. Remove the core from the tomato and score an “x” in the bottom. Bring a pot of water to boil and prepare an ice bath. Cook the tomato in the boiling water for 1 minute then submerge in the ice bath. If the skin doesn’t immediately start to peel away cook it again in the water for 1 minute and submerge in the ice bath. Drain well and use a paring knife or your fingers to remove and discard the skin. Cut the tomato into quarters and remove the seeds. Dice small.