This "16 bean" pasta e fagioli beckoned to me from the pages of Ina Garten's Cooking For Jeffrey. A simple peasant soup full of all the things I love: tomatoes, beans, and pasta. It screams of comfort food.
So, on a blustery winter day, I gathered my ingredients and set about preparing this soup. This recipe takes some forethought, namely soaking the beans overnight. If you forget, like me, you can do the quick-soak method (thanks Deb). After soaking, this recipe does take quite a bit of time. The beans cook an hour and you have to watch, skimming off foam. When they're done it's time to get out the food mill, or in my case, the blender. One-third of the beans gets pureed so as to thicken the soup. Then you have to add all the beans, and pasta, back to the pot and cook the soup for another 30 minutes.
Do you see where I'm going with this? This soup takes forethought, quite a bit of work, and results in lots of dirty dishes. No problem, right? After all, I love all the ingredients and this soup is definitely going to be great.
Wrong. So wrong. I wish I didn't have to say this, but my soup was really mild. Way too mild. In fact, my husband's comment was "this has no flavor at all." I had to agree with him. Baffled, I explained how I added bacon, extra onions and garlic, loads of red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, and topped it off with a little drizzle of some really nice extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil. Normally, these ingredients always deliver flavor. This time they did not.
Every once in awhile I have a kitchen failure, but I don't mind because I usually learn something helpful. This one leaves me wondering. What was the lesson? Was it the brand of beans? Were they old? Was it because I didn't soak my beans overnight? Maybe the quick-soak worked to make them tender but perhaps they just didn't soak up enough water? Maybe the quick-soak method affected the flavor profile of the soup? Maybe when you quick-soak you need to add xyz.... to help make up for something. Maybe it's something else altogether.
Either way, this recipe is a no go for us. Don't be afraid to give it a try though because I know a few others who have really enjoyed it! But, do me a favor, soak your beans overnight!
"16 Bean" Pasta e Fagioli
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
1 (1-pound) bag Goya 16 Bean Soup Mix*
2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra for serving
6 ounces pancetta, 1/4-inch-dice, or bacon*
1 large onion, chopped*
1 tablespoons minced garlic (3 cloves)*
red pepper flakes, to taste*
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine*
4 to 6 cups good chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup miniature pasta, such as ditalini or tubettini
1/2 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar*
Julienned fresh basil leaves, for serving
Note: My grocery didn't have the Goya brand bean mix so I bought an equiavalent. I used bacon in place of pancetta, added extra garlic and onions, about a tablespoon or more of red pepper flakes, two teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and a good amount of salt and pepper. I didn't add the red wine but replaced the liquid with chicken stock. The red wine vinegar did help to wake up the flavors, but unfortaunely not enough.
The day before you plan to make the soup, place the bean mix in a large bowl, add cold water to cover by 2 inches, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, drain the beans, rinse under cold running water, and drain again. Place the beans in a large pot with 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally and skim off any foam that rises to the top. The beans should be very tender and the skin will peel away when you blow on them.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium (10-inch) stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta and onion and saute over medium to medium high heat for 12 to 18 minutes, until browned. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for one minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, 4 cups of the chicken stock, salt and pepper, and turn off the heat.
Drain the beans and add two-thirds of them to the soup. Pass the remaining beans through a food mill, discarding the skins. Stir the bean puree and the pasta into the soup, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender. Add up to 2 more cups of chicken stock if the soup is too thick. Stir in the Parmesan and the vinegar. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and add a swirl of olive oil,a sprinkle of Parmesan, and some basil. Serve hot with extra Parmesan on the side.