This cozy, comforting Italian dish is part soup, part stew, and totally delicious.
Poor little January is often treated like the the red-headed step child on the calendar. It’s all back to business and no more fun. The gifts are unwrapped, the champagne uncorked, and diets have begrudgingly started. It’s a bleak month, at least here in the northeast. It’s cold, school is back in session, and summer vacation seems decades away.
But my is January is actually shaping up to be one of the best months of the year because I’ll be spending back to back weekends with some of my oldest and closest friends. As you read this my bags are packed and I’m en route to the airport for a weekend with my college girlfriends in Florida. I plan on getting a hearty dose of vitamin D (sunshine) and estrogen (the girl-talk). Fingers crossed that a little beach time is in the cards, but no doubt we’d have a great time if we were stuck in a paper bag. The following weekend my west coast pal is packing up her hat and scarf to hang with me in Jersey and NYC and there’s zero chance that a little cold weather will slow us down. It’s like Christmas is January for this girl!
It’s not lost on me that weekends like these, especially two in a row, are a luxury. And not just because they’re kid-free, cocktail-heavy, with a little sand and sun sprinkled in. Nope, what really makes these a luxury is the stretch of uninterrupted time to just decompress and yes, gab incessantly, with people that know you the best. The shorthand is there…old friends remember the name of that guy you used to date (even when you forgot), how you take your coffee (half n half and a drop of sugar), and whether to wake you or not for that early spin class (um, not). No matter if it’s days, weeks, or months between visits, it always feels like no time has passed at all.
There’s a cozy comfort in these old friendships and of course January is all about being cozy. Since someone else will be cooking for me this weekend, I decided to share the recipe for one of my all-time favorite comfort foods with you while I’m gone. Pasta e fagioli is like taking a bite of my childhood. We used to make ours with leftover sauce and even the occasional mashed up meatball, but the recipe I make now is a little more traditional. It starts with bacon or pancetta, has a rich tomato base, tender white beans and ditalini pasta sprinkled throughout. Finish it with a big spoon of grated parm, a handful of minced herbs, and dig in.
I can’t promise that this pasta e fagioli is as rewarding as a weekend away with your besties, but I can guarantee that you’ll have one happy belly if you give it a try. I’ll see you back here next week, when I’ll hopefully be a little tanner, probably a little tired, but pleasantly sated from good food and even better friends.
- 4 strips bacon (preferably thick cut or pancetta)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 26 oz canned, chopped tomatoes (I use Pomi)
- 1 quart chicken stock (+ 2 cups )
- 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp sugar
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 - 15 oz cans cannellini beans (white beans)
- 1 3/4 cups ditalini pasta
- *grated parmesan and minced parsley for serving
Roughly chop the bacon and cook over med/high heat in a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot until browned. Remove the bacon to a plate, but leave the drippings in the pan.
Add the onion, carrots, and celery to the pot and cook until softened, about 8 mins.
Add the garlic and continue to cook, another 3-4 mins. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Stir in the tomato paste and cook for about 2 mins. Add the red wine and cook until wine is almost completely absorbed.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes, chicken stock. herbs, parmesan, sugar, red pepper flakes, beans and cooked bacon. Season again with salt and pepper.
Bring to a rolling boil and stir in the ditalini. Reduce to a simmer and cook until pasta is fully cooked, about 8 mins, stirring frequently. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
The flavor will deepen as it sits, so if I have time, I cover the pot and set it to barely simmering until ready to serve. It will thicken as it sits and don't forget to stir!
Top with grated cheese and fresh herbs.