- 1 onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)
- 1 tin cannellini beans (400g)
- about 150g small pasta
- parmesan rind
- 1 litre stock
- about 200g kale
- 1 bay leaf
- pinch of dried herbs
- olive oil
I can’t say that this is authentically Italian in any way, although it clearly derives from pasta e fagioli or ‘pasta fazool’ (as it’s known in America). It’s widely eaten and I’ve seen various permutations of it: with/without tomatoes, vegetarian/meat, carrots/no carrots. There’s even a song about it:
The first time I had it was as an adult, from a tin - it was my husband’s favourite tinned soup (Baxter’s Italian Bean & Pasta Soup). It wasn’t a mind-blowing experience but I acknowledged that it was a pretty good, filling soup, especially for something you could chuck into a bowl and microwave. I use the past tense here because, at some point, they stopped making it.
That was when I started making my own. Initially for my husband, but it was so easy to make, so cheap and healthy, that I’ve been making this soup fairly frequently for a few years now. It uses the end bit of a slab of parmesan, the remnants ofvegetables (carrots, spinach, kale, etc.) and although I have a collection of fun pasta shapes, you could, reasonably, use an assortment of the dregs of bags of pasta lurking in your closet, bashed into little pieces so they’re roughly the same size (pasta mista, or mixed pasta), and everything else are kitchen staples: this all translates into feeling frugal and thrifty and a little smugas you watch it all come together into a warming and filling soup. What I mean to say is, making this soup makes me feel all kitchen-successful and nonna-like.
This soup is something I always make to use up all of the parmesan. Good parmesan is so expensive and sometimes I’ve been tempted to buy a pregrated bag from Sainsburys to throw on my pasta, but the promise of soup at the end of a wedge of parmesan pulls me back to the cheese shop and I feel completely vindicated buying the quality stuff when I know every last bit of it will be put to good use. And in all honesty I look forward to this soup each time I grate parmesan. I’ve left out the rind once and I’ve never done it again, it just adds richness and a depth of flavour to what is otherwise quite a plain soup. A vegan version could conceivably be made with a very flavourful stock.
The recipe I’ve given below takes less than an hour to put together. I actually watched an episode of Workaholics once I put the soup on simmer and chucked in the kale and pasta about 10 minutes before the end. I’ve used some fancy, Easter-shaped pasta which is cute and very seasonal, and a mix of black and regular kale, but this soup is very amenable to modifications and you could equally use spinach, peas, or if you’re using carrots, these should be added with the onions and sauteed. Another possible variation is to scoop out some beans and soup-liquid, blitz it and return it to the pot to make a thicker, creamier soup (of course, you do this before adding the pasta). This feels very nice and cozy when it’s cold. You might like to fish the rind and bay leaf out but I wouldn’t say this is strictly necessary.
Dice the onions and garlic
Heat some olive oil in a pot and saute the onions until soft.
Add the garlic, saute until golden brown.
Add the chopped tomatoes, beans, parmesan rind, herbs, bay leaf, stock (I made up some stock with Marigold bouillon and water) and bring to the boil.
Turn the heat down to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Check for seasonings. Grind pepper into the pot and add salt if necessary.
Add the pasta. Tear up the kale roughly and add to the soup. Cook until pasta is done, about 7 to 8 minutes.
Serve in bowls. Decorate with chilli flakes if you like.