I always try to eat delicious food. Unfortunately I don't have that much money, so I have to cook a lot of it at home. But thats OK because I love cooking and I love eating at home with my wife. This is a website with my favorite recipes and a little bit of commentary.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pasta e Fagioli

When I was researching minestrone soup for the post last week I came across an article that claimed that the Roman army marched on minestrone and pasta e fagioli A.K.A. pasta with beans. It makes sense to me. When I was in college I took a lot of courses in anthropology. I didn't necessarily buy into the political crap that the professors liked to talk about, but I learned a lot about life in general from those courses. I even considered majoring in it for a time. In fact, I took enough classes in it to be just a few semester hours away from a minor. One of the things I learned is that most of the world lives on a diet of complementary proteins. To quote one of my professors "2/3 of the world's population lives on rice and beans." If you do a little research you will figure out that he isn't far off. Nutritionally a starch plus a protein is a good idea. Consider the modern American working-class diet: meat and potatoes. Although I very rarely eat that kind of food, I can see the logic. It is easy to prepare using cheap and readily available ingredients. For most of the world, however, meat protein is too expensive. Beans and corn are excellent substitutes.

Pasta e fagioli seems like an easily prepared dish from readily available ingredients. The version I made is a wee more complicated than what is probably available in most of the world but cut to its bare essentials would be a pretty decent nutritional dish. I have heard that it is a staple of the modern Italian diet. If I were in charge of the Roman army I would really like the idea of pasta and beans. My troops would get plenty of energy from the carbohydrates and they would have protein and vitamins from the beans. If I pillaged a village I might find a few chickens to add to the pot and maybe even a few vegetables. My troops would likely appreciate a little nugget of meat every now and again. Who knows. If I was lucky I might be able to add a critter or varmint to the pot. Unfortunately a big hole gets blown in my theory when you consider that pasta was relatively expensive in ancient Rome. Wheat flour and its products were relatively rare and expensive in olden times and were likely available only to the upper class.

Since I was much intrigued and I had leftover beans from the soup as well as leftover pasta I decided to do a little more research. I found a video on pasta e fagioli which was interesting. I also looked through some of my books and found a great recipe in Rao's Cookbook. I decided to make a version using the stuff I had on hand, based a little bit on each source.

Pasta e Fagioli (pasta with beans)

4 strips bacon
olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 whole clove of garlic, peeled but not otherwise molested
1/2 can cannellini beans with juice (you can substitute Great Northern beans or another white bean)
1/2 can fava beans with juice (you can substitute kidney beans or similar)

1 cup canned whole peeled tomatoes, drained of juice and crushed
salt and pepper
8 ounces tubetti pasta (you can substitute macaroni)

2 cups chicken broth
Parmesan or Romano cheese to top

Put olive oil in a Dutch oven and heat to medium heat. Add in strips of bacon and brown. Remove the bacon and leave the grease. Saute the onion and garlic until translucent. Crumble the bacon and return to the pan along with beans and juice, tomatoes, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste the liquid and salt and pepper it to taste. Meanwhile cook the pasta until just about done. It should still be a little crisp and seem just a bit underdone. Drain and add pasta to the bean mixture. Cover and cook about 5 more minutes or until pasta is done. Serve topped with a little Parmesan or Romano cheese.

So tasty, so nutritious, so naughty. Pasta e Fagioli!

In other news, the wife is refining a recipe for a classic Italian American chicken dish. At this time I can't divulge any details of the recipe except for this photo of the first attempt at the dish: