When I was growing up, it was amazing how much you could learn if if you listened to the radio and if, like me, you had a mother who liked popular music. For instance, by the time I was seven years old, I knew that Mona Lisa was a girl in a famous painting because Mom liked Nat King Cole’s song about a “famous work of art.” When I was ten I learned how you said “God go with you” in Spanish because I listened to Les Paul and Mary Ford’s “Vaya Con Dios” at least a thousand times. And then, when I was eleven, Dean Martin introduced a lot of us kids to “pizza pie” in a song my mother loved, “That’s Amore.”
I didn’t have a chance to taste pizza for another three or four years until Vin opened the first pizza shop on Hayward’s main street, but most of us kids knew the words to the song, especially the opening line: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s amore….” Sixty years later I finally learned that the song also celebrated pasta e fagioli, an Italian dish of pasta and beans. The line in the song uses the Neapolitan dialect for the sake of the rhyme. “When the stars make you drool just like a pasta e fasule that’s amore.” Fasule is what people call fagioli in Naples.
Whichever name you prefer, this combination of beans, pasta and vegetables makes a hearty and wonderful meal. You can include meat if you want, but this peasant dish satisfies big appetites without it. Vegetarian pasta e fagioli is an authentic, rustic Italian bean and pasta soup that’s extremely easy to make and can be on the table in less than an hour. Be sure to try it sometime.
1 T olive oil
Half an onion
1 large carrot
1 celery stalk
1 zucchini, seven to nine inches long
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 can (28 oz) of whole tomatoes
1 can (28 oz.) of white beans
About 2 cups baby spinach
1 cup vegetable stock
2 T parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
Black pepper to taste
About 8 oz. rotini, penne rigate or other short pasta
You need a good knife, two large soup pots or a Dutch oven and a pot, a can opener and a wooden spoon to make Pasta e Fagioli. You also need four bowls or plates to stage the vegetables.
Clean and chop the onion, carrot and celery into a quarter to half-inch dice and set these vegetables aside in a small bowl. Wash and chop the zucchini into a slightly larger dice and set it aside in a separate bowl. You should have about one and a quarter cups of zucchini. Peel and mince the garlic and set it aside in a small bowl. Rinse the spinach and parsley. Shred the spinach into half-inch by one inch pieces and chop the parsley medium fine and set them aside in a bowl.
Heat the pot over medium-high heat and add the oil, onion, carrot and celery. Fry them for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and transparent.
Add the garlic and sauté it for about a minute, then add the zucchini and basil. If the vegetables look dry, you can add a little more oil. Cook the mixture for another couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes and their juice and use your spoon to break them into bite-sized pieces.
Add the beans and their liquid, spinach, vegetable stock, parsley, salt and a good grind of pepper (about a quarter of a teaspoon). Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer it for about fifteen minutes.
Meanwhile in a separate pot, cook the the pasta until it is at the al dente stage. Drain and add the pasta to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately with some good bread and wine.
NOTES: Since you add the pasta to the hot soup, it will continue cooking, so be careful not to overcook it. If the instructions on the package say to cook for eight to ten minutes, for example, drain the pasta at eight minutes or even a few seconds before.
It is important to prepare the vegetables before you begin cooking the soup, so you can add the vegetables at the proper times and not overcook them. Done properly, the celery will have a little crunch, the carrots more, and the rest of the vegetables will retain their identity.
This soup loses some of its character when you freeze it, but it still tastes good. If you want to enjoy it only at its peak of perfection, invite some friends over to share your pasta e fagioli with them when it’s done. There will be enough for six diners.
Cleaning and chopping the vegetables takes half the time to make this soup, so if you prepare the veggies ahead, you can serve this soup in less than thirty minutes!
And if, like me, you don’t speak Italian, you might appreciate knowing how easy it is to say Pasta e Fagioli. It’s Pasta eh Fa-JOE-lee.