A lot of things have changed here at Chez SGCC now that Mr. SGCC and I are empty nesters, not the least of which is how we eat. Our dinners have become more laid back, with a lot more salads, sandwiches and take-out taking center stage on our table. With Mini SGCC gone, I don’t have to worry about preparing substantial meals with enough leftovers to feed a horde of hungry teenagers. While this means a lot less work for me, I kind of miss it. I don’t know. Cooking for just the two of us just isn’t as much fun. I’m sure I’ll eventually get back in the groove. Until then, I’ll be serving up more “one pot wonders” like this Pasta Fazool for Cavemen.
If you’ve been hanging with me for a while, you may have seen my grandmother’s Pasta e Fagioli recipe that I wrote about several years ago. Pasta e fagioli, aka “pasta fazool”, which means “pasta and beans”, is a traditional Italian dish made with cannellini beans, garlic, onions, broth, and some type of small pasta, such as ditalini. Like many Italian classics, pasta e fagioli started out as a peasant dish, using inexpensive ingredients and featuring beans as a protein instead of meat. Some versions are like a soup, and others more of a stew. Some use tomatoes. Some don’t. Either way, it’s still considered cheap eats.
Truth be told, I’d never heard of pasta e fagioli until after I was married and started collecting cookbooks. Hard to believe coming from an Italian girl from the Bronx, huh – especially considering that I’ve been eating it all of my life? In my neighborhood, pasta e fagioli didn’t exist - but “pasta fazool” did. That’s what our grandmothers call it. That’s what our mothers called it. And, that’s what we kids called it. The Italian language is made up of many different regional dialects. Few speak the standard textbook version. In fact, some of these dialects are so different, that sometimes native Italians from different parts of the country even have a hard time understanding each other! The word for beans in the Neapolitan and other southern Italian dialects is pronounced “fazool”. The families in the area where I grew up were predominantly southern Italian. Ergo, we ate pasta fazool.
Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering where the cavemen part fits into all of this. Well, as I mentioned above, pasta fazool is traditionally a meatless dish. That’s why it’s called pasta fazool. Otherwise, it would be called pasta e carne, which is pasta and meat. But, some people here at Chez SGCC are cavemen, (like the person I’m married to), and don’t consider a meal to truly be a meal unless it contains meat. I kid you not. No matter how substantial or filling a vegetarian offering I set before him may be, to him - it’s still a side dish. Sigh… Sometimes, I just tell him “tough beans”. Sometimes, I humor him and throw him a meaty bone. And other times, like this one, I secretly thank him for his pig-headedness, because adding meat to this dish turned out to be a very, very good idea.
For my caveman-style pasta fazool, I used some nice, organic, hot Italian sausage. Think of it as an Italian version of pork and beans. I removed the sausage meat from the casings and browned it up in a deep skillet.
Then, I sautéed some carrots, celery, onions and garlic in all of that tasty, rendered pork fat. Sound good so far?
I also tossed in some fresh thyme, rosemary and a bay leaf, and let them work their magic.
After that, I added the fazool and smushed about a third of them around in the pan.
Pasta fazool wouldn’t be the same for me without some diced tomatoes.
Then, in goes the broth and some water. I like low-sodium chicken broth, but you can use vegetable or beef broth too. Bring it up to a boil and then stir in the pasta.
Reduce the heat and let everything get all cozy together until the pasta is tender. The starch released from the pasta thickens up the broth to the perfect “stewy” consistency, and you’ve got the most delicious, homey, hearty, meaty, stick-to-your-ribs pasta fazool evah. It doesn’t get much easier – or tastier – than that, folks!
Pasta Fazool for Cavemen
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound Italian sausage meat, removed from the casings
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 rib celery, diced
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
- 2 (14.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup diced plum tomatoes, canned or fresh
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups ditalini pasta or another kind of short pasta
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Heat olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pot and cook until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl.
- Reduce heat to medium and add the onions, carrot and celery. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add garlic, thyme and rosemary and sauté a few minutes more, until herbs become fragrant.
- Mash 2/3 cup of the cannellini beans and add to the pot, mixing well., and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes. Then, add the rest of the beans and the tomatoes to the pot and sauté for 2-3 minutes more.
- Add the broth,water, bay leaf and reserved sausage meat to the pot, stir and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, uncovered, until pasta is cooked and cooking liquid has thickened.
- Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add the freshly grated Parmesan and finish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Serve warm with some crusty Italian bread.
Serves 6 as a main course.