Italian

The Pasta and Beans Dish That'll Have You Say "That's Amore"

by:
November  8, 2016

From the top to the toe of Italy, you can find regions that claim this humble plate of pasta and beans as their local dish. And as much as pasta e fagioli is a creamy, delicious comfort food, its popularity is in part due to its nostalgia. Historically, pasta e fagioli saved families on the edge of poverty—a cheap, satisfying dish.

While Tuscany and Campania often lay claim to pasta e fagioli—the Tuscans themselves aren't called mangiafagioli (“bean-eaters” for nothing—and Dean Martin made Naples' version famous when he compared a plate of pasta fasul with "that's amore" or falling in love, the Veneto region has an exceptionally long link to pasta e fagioli. The Veneti are the ones to credit for importing the particular beans that Italians now call their own, namely borlotti and cannellini, centuries ago from the Americas.

Borlotti beans take center stage here. Photo by Emiko Davies

The "recipe" varies from region to region and even household to household and generation to generation, but the idea is the same: Cooked beans (better of course if you cook them yourself from dried or fresh beans, but otherwise, a can will do) are partially reduced to a thick and creamy purée and cooked with some tomato purée, enough to make it blush. This thick sauce of whole and puréed beans with short pasta swimming in it is somewhere halfway between a soup and a pasta dish, suitable for eating with a spoon.

Shop the Story

What changes are the other additions—sometimes the base is cooked with a soffritto of celery, onion and carrot, and, sometimes, with just finely chopped garlic and parsley. The pasta can be parboiled, then added, and other times it's cooked directly in the sauce.

Part soup, part pasta. Photo by Emiko Davies

In the Veneto, when this was made in the colder months (called minestra de fasoi, making it decidedly more a soup than a pasta dish) and it coincided with the seasonal butchering of pigs, pig skins or bones would be added for flavor. Today, you can often find pancetta, prosciutto, or lardo, that slab of silky cured pork fat, cut into thin strips, sizzled together with the soffritto. A Parmesan rind is also often used (I save them in my freezer for times like this), thrown into the simmering sauce to add flavor. To keep this dish vegetarian or vegan, simply leave these out and use vegetable stock instead of water.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Here pasta e fasoi is a very popular dish, though sometimes barley takes the place of the pasta (orzo e fagioli) and there is also a soup called 'minestra de bobici' which is made with borlotti beans, potatoes instead of pasta and corn. Sausages, smoked pork ribs and ham etc. are often used to make these soups. ”
— Adrienne
Comment

A healthy topping of grated cheese is entirely optional, too. There are those who, like my Tuscan mother in law, don't like to put cheese on their beans. She says it masks the beans' flavor, which, when good-quality, is earthy and nutty and their texture wonderfully creamy and completely satisfying.

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

Tell us: Have you made pasta e fagioli before? What sorts of add-ins do you favor?

Tags:

6 Comments

Cuocopazzo January 13, 2017
Dad (Neapolitan) said it was pasta fazul. Mom (Triestina) said it was pasta e fagioli. Dad insisted on no veggies or meat. Mom used only water. I loved both of them but preferred mom's version, which is very close to your recipe. She made it even easier by cooking the pasta in the same pot as the veggies, adding water as needed, until cooked. Then she added the beans and passata to heat through. It was liquid enough to be a soup, but hearty enough to be a stew. Excuse me while I go whip up a batch...
 
Adrienne November 14, 2016
I live in Trieste in Italy. Here pasta e fasoi is a very popular dish, though sometimes barley takes the place of the pasta (orzo e fagioli) and there is also a soup called 'minestra de bobici' which is made with borlotti beans, potatoes instead of pasta and corn. Sausages, smoked pork ribs and ham etc. are often used to make these soups.
 
The P. November 13, 2016
Pasta Fazool FTW!
 
Denise T. November 13, 2016
I grew up having pasta fasul frequently, often as our meat-free Friday dish. Our leaned to the soup-y ... Simply dark red kidney beans, and either elbow or ditalini pasta. If I make it now, I sometimes use ceci instead of kidney, or a mix. Garlic, onion, tomato - basic, hearty soup! ❤️
 
Clelia October 29, 2017
Yes!!! My dad is from Calabria and this exactly what we grew up eating. Loads of pecorino romano on top. I would always have a pot waiting for me on the stove when coming home from college or for the holidays. It is my favorite comfort food... sup yummy.
 
Barbara November 13, 2016
I like to add a leafy green, usually spinach or swisschard.