Pasta e Fagiole

From Cucina Napoletana: 100 Recipes from Italy’s Most Vibrant City (Interlink Books, 2008)

This is very much a country dish. In areas where meat was scarce or expensive, legumes were often used to provide necessary protein in the diet – with the added benefit that they were filling and could be used over the winter months when fresh produce was less available.

Serves 4

10 oz dried cannellini beans
pinch of baking soda
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (see note)
1 fresh red chili, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons passata
10 oz pasta mista
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Soak the beans overnight in plenty of cold water with a pinch of baking soda. Rinse well, and put the beans in a pan with 6 cups water. Cover the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 2 hours until the beans are tender but still have a bite.
  2. In the meantime, make a tomato sauce. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, celery, tomatoes, and chili. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes until cooked down into a sauce.
  3. When the beans are nearly cooked, add the tomato sauce and passata. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes. Remove some of the beans, blend until smooth, and return to the pan.
  4. Cook the pasta in plenty of slightly salted boiling water for half its cooking time. Add to the beans to finish cooking in the soup for a few minutes until al dente. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Peeling tomatoes It is not such an onerous task, peeling fresh tomatoes. Simply score the skin slightly with a sharp knife, blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds or so until the skin starts to soften and split, then refresh in cold water. This makes it far easier to use a sharp knife to peel away the skin.