Pasta e fagioli, which literally translates as ‘pasta and beans’, is a type of minestra – Italy’s catch-all term for its family of pasta, rice and pulse-laden soups. As a soup, pasta e fagioli sits firmly at the thicker end of the scale consistency-wise, so it’s a reassuringly restorative dish for the cooler months. Hearty yet healthy, this bean and pasta soup is a brilliant example of cucina povera – humble Italian dishes traditionally eaten by the poor.
A dish for all of Italy
Pasta e fagioli is popular all over Italy, and each region has its own, subtly different, version. In fact, the dish is a great barometer of the dominant culinary sensibilities in any particular region. In the north of Italy, regions like Emilia-Romagna and Veneto include local borlotti beans, fresh egg pasta, butter and pancetta in their pasta e fagioli soup. As you venture further south, pasta e fagioli recipes are more likely to feature regional favourites like cannellini beans, dried pasta, olive oil and tomatoes.
Whatever the main ingredients, the key is that this is a dish that all Italians can lay claim to.
Our pasta e fagioli recipe
In the spirit of this being a dish for all, we’ve opted to keep our pasta e fagioli recipe vegetarian. If you eat meat, feel free to throw some chopped pancetta into the mix once your soffritto of onion, celery and carrot has softened.
Prep time: 1 hour (plus 8 hours to soak the beans)
Cook time: 45 minutes
Calories per serving: 525kcal
- 250g dried borlotti or cannellini beans
- 2 sticks of celery, finely diced
- 1 medium carrot, finely diced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 tinned plum tomatoes
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
- 300g small dried pasta (ditalini, conchiglie, macaroni)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 60ml extra virgin olive oil
- 20g grated vegetarian Italian hard cheese, to serve
Step 1: Soak and cook your beans
- Soak your beans in cold water for a minimum of 8 hours (or overnight), then drain.
- Put the soaked beans and bay leaves into a large saucepan and cover with cold water by about 10cm.
- Bring to a simmer and cook for around an hour, or until tender.
- Take the pan off the heat, remove the bay leaves and leave the beans to cool in their cooking liquid.
Step 2: Build your base
- Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté or casserole pan over a low heat, then add the onion and cook until soft and translucent.
- Add the celery and carrot, then cook until tender. Add the rosemary and fry until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes and stir, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Raise the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, or until you have a saucy base.
- Add your cooked beans and a ladle or so of the cooking liquid, then leave to simmer away for 10-15 minutes. Season with salt.
Chef’s tip: For a creamier texture, remove and blend a third of the cooked bean mixture, then add it back to the pan.
Step 3: Add your pasta and serve
- Turn your pan of beans up to high and add two more ladles of bean cooking liquid. Once at a rolling boil, add your pasta.
- Cook, stirring regularly, until the pasta is al dente (add more of the bean liquid if needed).
- Take your pasta e fagioli off the heat, then serve with a dusting of grated cheese, plenty of black pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Can I use tinned beans instead of dried?
Tinned beans work just fine if you’re strapped for time. We prefer to soak and cook dried beans because the starchy, bay-infused cooking water that’s left over acts as a wonderful stock.
If you’re using tinned beans, you’ll need 600g of tinned beans, plus 2 litres of vegetable stock to replace the bean cooking water. Simply drain and rinse your beans, then jump straight to step 2.
Can I use fresh pasta in pasta e fagioli?
You can absolutely use fresh pasta instead of dried. In northern Italy, pasta e fagioli is often made with fresh maltagliati – flat, irregularly-shaped pieces of pasta dough left over after making fresh tagliatelle (maltagliati literally means ‘badly cut’).
If you’re using fresh pasta, add it to your bean broth a couple of minutes before serving up.