What is Pasta e Fagioli?

Dan Cavallari

Italian cooks love tomatoes. They grow them in abundance and base entire dishes on them, using them for sauces, salads, sandwiches, and soups. Perhaps one of the best known tomato-based Italian soups is Pasta e Fagioli, which translates, simply, into pasta and beans. Pasta e Fagioli is an easy to make dish with little prep time that is both delicious and healthy.

Grated Parmesan cheese is often used to top pasta e fagioli.
Grated Parmesan cheese is often used to top pasta e fagioli.

Pasta e Fagioli consists, generally, of pasta, beans, vegetables, spices and a tomato and chicken-based broth. While there are many recipes that will have specific measurements for each ingredient, most Italian cooks measure their ingredients to taste. There are two ways to make the broth for Pasta e Fagioli. The first is to sauté minced garlic and onion in olive oil until browned, then add chicken stock and tomato paste. Alternatively, you can use the second method of making the base, which involves heating olive oil, sautéing garlic and onion, then adding peeled and crushed plum tomatoes. Simmer this combination for several minutes and the soup base is formed. If you use the second method, you may need to cut the broth with some water; the broth itself should not be thick like pasta sauce.

Fresh basil leaves are often used to season pasta e fagioli broth.
Fresh basil leaves are often used to season pasta e fagioli broth.

To season the Pasta e Fagioli broth, many cooks use a simple array of spices including basil, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Spices like thyme and rosemary can add an extra kick if you prefer. Once the soup broth has had time to simmer, add cannellini beans – also known as white kidney beans – and pasta to the soup. The type of pasta will vary depending on the recipe, but most will call for orecchietti, ditalini, or in rarer cases, elbow pasta. Simmer until the pasta is cooked to your liking.

Pasta e fagioli is a tomato-based Italian soup.
Pasta e fagioli is a tomato-based Italian soup.

There are several variations on the recipe for Pasta e Fagioli, some calling for extra vegetables like diced carrots, mushrooms, or celery to give the soup an extra bit of taste and flare. Add these extra elements to your liking, but the basic recipe does not usually call for these items. The simplicity of this soup is really what makes it a quick and delicious staple at Italian dinner tables.

Parsley is often used to season Pasta e Fagioli.
Parsley is often used to season Pasta e Fagioli.

As with most soups, the longer the Pasta e Fagioli simmers, the more rich and flavorful it will taste when served. It makes a good appetizer or side dish to go along with meats, pasta dishes, salads, or just a glass of wine. Along with the soup, serve Italian bread to mop up extra broth, and be sure to have grated parmesan cheese ready to sprinkle on top of the soup.

Pasta e Fagioli broth consists of minced garlic.
Pasta e Fagioli broth consists of minced garlic.
Sauteing garlic and onions in olive oil is the base for Pasta e Fagioli.
Sauteing garlic and onions in olive oil is the base for Pasta e Fagioli.
Oregano can be used to season pasta e fagioli.
Oregano can be used to season pasta e fagioli.

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