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Doing it the old-fashioned way

Posted by Sheryl Julian  October 12, 2009 04:32 PM

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In some Italian-American kitchens, the traditional pasta e fagioli is pronounced pasta fajool. One of the authentic versions of the dish begins with cranberry beans, also known as shell beans, and in Italy as borlotti beans. They have red and white marbled pots, really stunning, and they're labor intensive to peel. Each pod -- don't get the green ones because the beans aren't ripe -- yields 3 or 4 beans. Watch a movie or daydream (I prefer the latter).

Pasta fajool is made with beans, tiny pasta, tomatoes, garlic, and fresh herbs. It simmers into a beautiful dish, which you can garnish with Parmesan, parsley, and crushed red pepper. We plan to eat it all winter, using dried beans when the cranberry beans are no longer in season.

Pasta e fagioli
(Italian pasta and beans)
Serves 6

If you begin with 3 pounds of fresh cranberry beans, you’ll get about 3 cups of shelled beans. This dish tastes better if you let it sit for a couple of hours. Add more water when you reheat the pot.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 carrots, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped or 1 can (28 ounces) imported whole tomatoes, crushed
6 cups water, or more if necessary
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 pounds fresh cranberry or shell beans, shelled or 2 cans (1 pound each) shell or white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup tiny pasta, such as shells, tubettini, farfalline (mini bow ties)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Extra chopped fresh parsley (for serving)
Crushed red pepper (for serving)

1. In a large flameproof casserole over medium heat, heat the oil and cook the onion, carrots, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, water, oregano, parsley, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, cover with the lid and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. Add the beans and continue cooking for 3 minutes. The pasta and beans will not be tender; they’ll cook more later. Drain into a colander.
4. Add the beans and pasta to the tomato mixture. Continue cooking, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until the beans and shells are tender. Add more water during cooking if the pot seems dry.
5. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan, parsley, and crushed red pepper. Sheryl Julian

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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