The Classic Pasta and Fagioli

There are so many versions of Pasta e Fagioli¬†in Italy and on the web, it almost seems superfluous to add my two bob’s worth on the topic. Anyone who has an Italian nonna makes a more traditional/better/regional/authentic version. During winter, Pasta e Fagioli,¬†(pasta and beans) is one of the most useful dishes to know. Is it an entr√©e, a soup or a main dish? It can be all of these but given the heartiness and distinct lack of brothy elements, I tend to make this dish as a piatto unico, a stand alone dish, to be served with bread, a few drops of new oil, and perhaps some Parmigiano. Most versions are thick with beans and pasta and very little broth: some are made slowly with fresh borlotti beans, while less desirable versions are thrown together with canned beans, canned tomato and cheap industrial pasta. It is a timeless classic rustic dish, Cucina Povera Italiana, made in the past through necessity using simple ingredients stored for winter. Today, it satisfies that need in us all for comfort food on a cold winter’s day.

Like many other Italian dishes, this one also starts with a classic soffritto, that holy trio of flavour, emerging from the slow sauté of carrots, onion and celery. The soffrito vegetables must be chopped very finely so that they almost disappear once they are cooked. Another element often added at the soffrito stage is pancetta and lardo. I omit these ingredients given my dietary preferences but try to find other umani elements to flavour the dish, either through rich stock, herbs, garlic or even anchovy fillets, reduced to a salty mash. I also reserve a little deep vegetable stock to thin the mixture.

First pressed and just delicious. The first harvest of Cobram’s new oil. Only for dressing up.

Ingredients

  • 200 g borlotti beans, either fresh or dried
  • 250 gr tomato passata or finely diced tomatoes
  • 80 gr onion finely chopped
  • 30 gr celery finely chopped
  • 30 gr carrot finely chopped
  • 1 garlic finely chopped
  • 1 small branch fresh rosemary
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 10 g EV olive oil
  • black pepper
  • fine sea salt
  • 100- 200g of pasta ditalini, depending on your preference for a thick or thinner version.

Method

Cook the beans. If using dried borlotti, soak overnight then cook in water for around 80 minutes. Add the bay leaves to the water but no salt which may make the beans remain hard. If using fresh borlotti, there’s no need to soak them and they should cook in under 30 minutes, depending on their their freshness. Keep the cooking water.

When the beans are done, make a soffrito with the onion, celery and carrot. Add the oil to a large heavy based soup pot and gently saute these vegetables until soft and golden, adding the chopped garlic and finely chopped rosemary towards the end. (Traditionally, the garlic would be added to the cooking oil first, cooked until just golden then fished out before adding the soffrito ingredients. If you don’t love garlic as much as I do, consider that method. I like to keep the garlic for more flavour)

Add the beans and a little of the cooking water. Then add the tomato and heat through gently. Remove two ladles of the mixture and puree with a hand mixer. Return this back to the soup pot. If too thick, add a little bean cooking water or vegetable stock.

Add the pasta, and cook until al dente. Watch the pot at this stage as the pasta and beans have a tendency to stick when this thick. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serve in lovely wide and shallow bowls with a drizzle of fine oil and some good bread.

Bread of the day with Pasta of the week.

Other Pasta of the Week ideas:

Maccheroni Rigati with Sweet Pepper Sauce

Ditalini with Cacio and Eggs

Gnocchi Sardi with Gorgonzola, Silver beet and walnuts.

Pantacce with Borlotti Beans and Rugola

 

 

 

 

 

Maccheroni Rigati with Sweet Pepper Sauce

Since beginning my little pasta series, Pasta della Settimana, readers have asked me all sorts of pasta questions. Is pasta fresca (fresh) better than pasta secca, (dried)? How do I choose a good dried pasta without paying a fortune? And the answer always comes down to the same thing: taste a variety of pasta brands and discover the difference between good and bad pasta. Commercial ‘fresh pasta’ sold in plastic packets in supermarkets is stodgy, far too thick and is inedible, despite the alluring sounding stuffings. It tastes just like the wrapping it comes in. If you want good fresh pasta, either make a batch yourself or find a reliable source of fresh pasta that is not too thick and floury. A good quality dried pasta beats a badly made industrial fresh one any day. Look for dried pasta that has a rougher surface and has been manufactured using bronze dies, or ‘Trafilatura al Bronzo’,¬†meaning it has been extracted through bronze and not teflon dies, the latter more commonly used. A good pasta should hold its shape when cooked, the cooking water should not become overly cloudy and it should be firm and not floury to taste.

The other key thing about pasta is to choose a shape that marries your sauce. Short pasta with ridged lines (rigati) are good to hold creamy sauces. Look for this word on the packets (lisce means smooth, the opposite of rigati). Other golden rules include:

  • Never overcook pasta
  • Never over drain pasta, unless you are saucing with a thin brothy sauce or seafood. Pasta needs to be moist to marry well with the sauce.
  • Never over sauce pasta.
  • Use fresh, seasonal ingredients.
  • Find the best quality ingredients, including pasta, parmesan and EV olive oil that is fresh. When it comes to olive oil, check the use by date and choose one closest to the oil’s date of harvest and crush, which should be mentioned on the tin or bottle. In Victoria, Australia, Cobram oil is released in May each year so it’s easy to check the freshness annually. Many European oils often end up in famous delis with close to rancidity dates. Buyer beware.

    Tiny pasta shapes with fabulous names used especially in broths and thin soups.

In late Autumn, red peppers Рbell peppers, pepperoni or capsicums- depending on where you come from, are at their peak and can be purchased in markets rather cheaply. They are far more suited to a sub- tropical climate: this is one vegetable that I prefer to buy than waste 5 months waiting for one two to ripen in my own orto.

Sweet and creamy, roasted pepperoni sauce with Maccheroni rigati ( Molisana brand)

The following recipe is a luscious creamy sauce which makes a great accompaniment to grilled fish as well as a pasta sauce. It keeps well, covered with a film of olive oil, for two weeks in the fridge.

Roasted Red Pepper sauce with Maccheroni Rigati ( adapted from a recipe by Ursula Ferrigno, see below.)

This makes enough pasta sauce for 4 serves or a 225 g jar.

  • 4 large red peppers ( capsicum, bell pepper, pepperoni)
  • 65 g ground almonds or almond meal
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 Tablespoons¬†EV olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 50 g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Padano
  • sea salt, black pepper to taste
  • pasta to serve, around 80 -100g per person
  • fresh basil leaves to serve.
  1. Preheat oven to 200c. Place the peppers on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven for 25 minutes. turning once during cooking. They should become charred and deflated. Remove and place them in a plastic or paper bag to cool.
  2. When the peppers are cool, peel off the skin and remove all the seeds. Try to save the pepper juice by holding them over a bowl.
  3. Put the pepper flesh and all the other ingredients into a food processor and whizz until blended, smooth and thick. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Cook your chosen pasta, such as rigatoni, penne rigate or maccheroni rigati. Reheat the sauce gently in a wide and and deep frying pan then add the cooked pasta to the sauce, tossing well to completely cover.
  5. Serve hot with torn basil leaves.

    Sides- a good bitter leaf salad and sourdough bread, Panmarino.

References.

Pasta Classica 125. Julia Della Croce, 1987

Pizza, Pasta and Polenta, Great Italian Vegetarian Recipes. Ursula Ferrigno, 1995

 

 

 

 

Take Me to the River

Sitting on the banks of the ancient Murray River, the day is hot and still: I pass the afternoon with a glass of vodka and Passiona on ice, sunning my legs, followed by a dip in the water,  while chatting with my daughter/best friend. Oh Happy Day.

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I’m on a mission to explore the many beaches and banks of the Murray River, camping off the grid where possible. ¬†As the river is 2,508 kilometres in length and runs through three states of Australia, this could be mission¬†impossible. ¬†Earlier Murray river posts can be viewed here and here.

Isolated beach on the Murray River
Isolated beach on the Murray River

This time, we set up camp on a sandy bank between Cobram and Yarrawonga in Victoria, one day after a holiday weekend. We had this glorious beach to ourselves, bar two canoeists heading down stream, and one tourist passenger boat. I’m glad I wasn’t perched on the throne of my river view¬†toilet/shower on that occasion.

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Thanks to Kyle, who should be cloned and packed away in everyone’s tool box, we had hot water on demand, many other unusual and handy camping gadgets, as well as ready help with anything to fix or adjust. His gadgets included a vacuum cleaner, a high pressure hose, an electric fan, radios, mobile phones, tablets and iPads, shower pumps and portable fridges, to name just a few. Solar panels supplied power to the 12 volt battery systems that had already been charged by our vehicles in the trip to the river. An inverter took care of converting 12 volt power from the batteries to 240 volts for those appliances that required mains power.

Our hot water service was fired up each morning and evening. Cold river water is poured into a funnel inserted in the top of the keg which is then heated on the campfire. A short time later, boiling hot water comes from the outlet, providing enough for showers and dishwashing.

Kyle's reprurposed stainless stell keg hot water service.
Kyle’s repurposed stainless steel beer keg hot water service.

Camping trips require good but simple food. Sometimes we cooked on gas or used Kyle’s Dutch ovens, partly buried in a shallow layer of hot coals with more hot coal on the lids enabling roasting, casseroling and baking. ¬†Lunchtime catering on hot days consisted of sandwiches and salads: the kids picked out the bits they liked. The pescatarians ate¬†stuffed peppers with leftover Pesto Mac ( a variation of Mac and Cheese for pesto lovers) as well as curries and salmon burgers.

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The family took the week off, cashing in on Melbourne Cup Day Holiday to take time out in a great month of the year.¬†What did the kids learn?¬†The oldest (10) ¬†learnt about solar energy and sustainability and the basic law of physics, via¬†the water heater service. He observed our camping solar panels in action and asked the pertinent question, “If this is the sunniest spot in Victoria, why aren’t there more solar panels around? This area could produce enough power for the state of Victoria!” ¬†Good question Noah. ¬†A child can see the common sense in solar energy¬†after a camping trip like this.

Are our political leaders slow learners, are their heads buried in the sand or inserted into another orifice of the dirty brown coal industry providers?  At 10 years old, kids ask questions, at 18 they vote. At 50 what will their world be like without a radical change to address climate change?

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The younger ones learnt to use the currents of the river to move downstream (with safety jackets on). They watched the full moon rise each evening. The girls found some instant $1.00 fashion in the op shops of a nearby town. The children had no need for shoes, they were always hungry, and they played and looked after each other. The cards came out, Ollie found a handmade sling shot, Lottie found an off cut of redgum wood which became an oiled cheese board. They skip jumped rocks on the river and dug vast holes in the sand and joined in night-time campfire conversations about dreams.

We wound up with a moonlight ballet concert on the beach, spot lit by one of Kyle’s camping toys, with Daisy doing a great dying swan act on the banks of the river.¬†

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How nice it would be to take a tinny or kayak down the river from Yarrawonga to Cobram.

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Song plants to go with this post, because camping is also about singing:

  • Take Me to the River,¬†Al Green, nicely covered ¬†by Talking Heads.
  • I See the Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
  • Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky¬†-you know the one!
  • Oh Happy Day, ¬†18th century gospel song first popularised by Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969.
  • Love is a Battlefield, Pat Benatar, a good tune to dance to in the wilds.