Just when I was feeling particularly smug about the lack of mid-winter sickness in this house, I suddenly got a cement-block head and serious case of the sniffles. You may remember that during Baby J's first winter and the one after, all of us were basically sick as dogs from October through April. Things have certainly improved since then, and we had seemingly made it all the way to January without much more than a round of stuffy sinuses right around Thanksgiving. Please remind me next time I say, write or think that to find the nearest, largest piece of wood and knock on it one hundred times. I really don't want to tempt the gods who dole out the winter bugs around here.
When I feel stuffy, bleary, queasy or otherwise under the weather, my go to meal is, not surprisingly, a hot bowl of soup. Said soup is hopefully easily prepared, nutrient-packed and, above all else, comforting. And around here, nothing is more universally comforting than some good old Italian peasant food. Pasta e Fagioli (translation: pasta and beans), is about as traditionally Italian and comforting as it gets. Versions of this soup vary widely from region to region in Italy, so it is a perfect soup to take your own license with depending on what ingredients you may have on hand or according to your mood.
Normally, I'd include more vegetables in the base of a soup, but I wasn't in a chopping mood, so I kept this one to onions and garlic. Traditionally, pasta e fagioli is a vegetarian dish, but I was craving the salty punch of pancetta, so I threw it in the pot. I kept this soup incredibly simple: just those two aromatics, the pancetta, some herbs, tomatoes, beans, pasta, and stock. After chopping the onion and garlic, the rest of this soup mostly involved opening cans and stirring; perfect for my energy level (low) and my need of near-instant comfort food (high).
I encourage you to use this recipe as a jumping off point for your own pasta e fagioli creation: add carrots and celery if you're feeling it, leave out the pancetta if you are a vegetarian or otherwise not down with pork, use a different shape of pasta, or leave out the red pepper flakes for a milder dish... make it your own!
However your soup turns out, I can guarantee you'll create the perfect bowl of winter comfort food to nourish your soul and cure what ails you.
Pasta e Fagioli Soup
Serves 6 to 8
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. pancetta, minced
1 sweet yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon each dried basil and oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4 cups chicken or veggie stock
1 15oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup dried pasta (I love using orecchiette, but elbow macaroni or ditalini would be more traditional choices)
Parmesan cheese for garnish
1) In a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pancetta, onion and garlic and saute, until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
2) Add the tomatoes, rosemary, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper, as well as the beans and stock and simmer for another 30 minutes.
3) Add the pasta to the soup and simmer until the pasta is cooked, about 10-12 minutes more. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese on top.