Pasta fagioli or pasta e fagioli is a traditional Italian recipe. The name literally means “pasta and beans.” Although originally meatless peasant fare, the dish is now widely accepted as a classic across all classes. Love of the dish is so widespread it’s featured on the Olive Garden menu and over a dozen recipes appear on the Food Network site alone. A pasta fagioli recipe may be as thin as a soup or so hearty that sauce or herbs barely coat the showpiece ingredients. Even recipes claimed by their proponents to be the true or traditional dish can’t back up the claim. Long before the internet and chain restaurants the recipe varied by region and season within Italy. A family might have a version that is their traditional dish and often it will require a marinara sauce made to a second very traditional recipe but that doesn’t make a competing recipe, perhaps with a different type of beans and pasta and no sauce at all, less authentic or entitled to the name.
As the dish has gained popularity it has also gained meat. The peasant version of the dish was affordable because of the lack of this pricey ingredient but Americans, in particular, tend to prefer a heartier and heftier main course. Pancetta and prosciutto are common additions to a fagioli recipe. Ground sausage or hamburger may also be used by more budget conscious cooks looking to add meat to the dish.
Although spirited arguments about the true pasta fagioli recipe can never be resolved, here is one recipe to get a time and budget conscious cook started. Heat two teaspoons olive oil in a large saucepot. Add one large chopped onion, two medium peeled and chopped carrots, and 2 stalks of chopped celery and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes or until tender. Begin boiling a separate pot of water. Add three cloves finely chopped garlic and cook one more minute. Add on jar of quality tomato sauce, four cups of water, and one can drained and rinsed cannellini or red kidney beans. Cook the sauce pot for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook 4 ounces of small pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.