Fall in love with pasta e fagioli

Julie Falsetti

At least a few people must remember Dean Martin’s song “That’s Amore,” which used many similes to link love and food.

My favorite is from the second verse: “When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool. That’s amore.”

Pasta fazool is the Neopolitan pronunciation of the classic bean and pasta dish pasta e fagioli. It is a dish from the cucina povre school of cooking, as it uses inexpensive ingredients that are usually at hand in the pantry. Because it is easy to prepare, warm and filling, it also qualifies as a rustic comfort food.

A dish primarily made at home, pasta e fagioli has as many variations as there are cooks. The Olive Garden has a version made with both meat and beans. The addition of another protein to me seems redundant. The version I like best is both vegetarian and vegan.

Pasta e fagioli can be considered either a hearty soup or light pasta dish. Either way, it is perfect for the beginning of Lent.

You can use any type of beans you want, but cannellini, or white kidney beans, are traditional. Locally they can be hard to find dried, but Weis markets are a reliable source. If you forget to soak your beans, a 15-ounce can is the equivalent. Be sure to add the beans along with their liquid.

Because the pasta is cooked directly in the sauce with the beans, you want something small. Ditalini or small shells are a good choice. Like many Italian dishes, pasta e fagioli tastes even better when topped with freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Pasta e Fagioli

3/4 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight

2 teaspoons salt, divided

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup spaghetti sauce or crushed tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 cups hot water

11/2 cups small shell pasta or ditalini

2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Drain the soaked beans and add 21/2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook covered for 30 to 45 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions, celery and garlic. Cook until the onions are golden. Add the sauce and remaining teaspoon of salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

Add the water and beans with their cooking liquid, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes more. Stir in the pasta and cook uncovered until the pasta is tender. Stir frequently to prevent the pasta from sticking. Add the chopped parsley and serve hot topped with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.