Comfort food is the best, isn’t it?
It may not be the best for your diet, but when you need an extra ounce of comfort in your day, a tasty bowl of soup can be the perfect answer -- and there is nothing better than the Italian classic pasta e fagioli.
You’ve probably seen this soup on the menu at most Italian restaurants, including the popular chain Olive Garden. It’s a hearty soup, filled with ditalini noodles, white beans, tomatoes, kale and meat. If you’ve ever had minestrone soup, it’s kind of like that. They are practically soup cousins.
I had never tried pasta e fagioli until I got chef Carla Lalli Music’s cookbook about a year ago.
Music used to work at Bon Appetit magazine, so I was familiar with her recipes and cooking videos.
While thumbing through her cookbook, I was immediately drawn to the soup recipe. I wasn’t entirely sure how to pronounce the full name of it, but the photo of the soup made me stop in my tracks. The rich, golden broth sprinkled with parmesan and drizzled with olive oil immediately caught my eye, and I knew I had to make it.
Now, the recipe has become my new go-to whenever I’m craving a big bowl of soup on a Sunday afternoon. It’s low maintenance, packed with tons of flavor and you’re able to riff on it with certain ingredients.
You start out by making a sofrito. You dice up carrots, onion and garlic until they’re teeny tiny. It helps if you have a food processor for this step. You cook the sofrito in your pot at low heat in olive oil, so it builds flavor.
After about 10 or so minutes, increase the heat and add your pork. Music’s recipe calls for a smoked ham hock, but I’ve also used bacon and pancetta when I couldn’t find a ham hock. Any kind of fatty pork product will work just fine.
Once the ham hock is browned, you add whole peeled tomatoes and your beans. This is another part where you can make some changes. The recipe calls for you to soak the beans overnight, so they get a head start.
If you decide to make this when you’re short on time, you can always add canned beans that are already tender. You’ll just want to add some more liquid to the pot since you’ll be missing the liquid the beans were soaked in.
Add in your kale (or whatever leafy green you prefer) and let the soup simmer on the stove for a few hours so all those flavors can meld together.
The last step is adding the pasta. You’ll want to cook your pasta in a separate pot. If you add the dry ditalini to your soup, the noodles will just absorb all the broth you’ve been letting simmer for hours.
When you’re done, top your bowl with some grated parmesan and a little bit of olive oil -- and you’ve got a bowl of soup that will transport you to the Italian countryside.
Luckily, you don’t need Music’s cookbook to make this recipe. It’s available on Bon Appetit’s website, and there is even a YouTube video of Music making the entire soup, step by step. You can watch it below.