Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Italian comfort food

I’m a lazy cook and a food snob. There I’ve said it. I like delicious meals that can be made in one or two pots max with minimal supervision. Actually, what I really prefer is when my husband, the gourmet, whips up something magical in the kitchen leaving only one or two pots for me to clean up.

When it’s my turn to man the stovetop, I usually rely on my battered copy of “Cucinando con Vera” to guide me through tried and true recipes from cooking classes I took in Naples, Italy. One of my favorites is a one pot (!) dish that is standard fare in Neapolitan families: pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans).

½ lb. dry cannellini or white beans
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
7 oz. small tube pasta or tubetti
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup olive oil
2 qts. Water
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
salt to taste

Soak the beans overnight and drain. Add all the above ingredients to a pot, except pasta and salt. Cover the pot and bring mixture to a boil. Keep mixture at a low boil continuously until beans are cooked (add water if needed) and almost all water has evaporated. Add the pasta and salt, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, adding a little water if necessary while pasta is cooking. Cook ‘til done. Serves 4-6

Note 1: The pasta and beans are meant to be cooked until a state of *mushiness* in the traditional Neapolitan fashion. It’s also served up pretty dry so it’ll stick to your ribs. However, I prefer it with the pasta cooked al dente and a little saucier so I usually add more water and keep a close eye on noodle firmness.

Note 2: After years of experimentation, I have pretty much doubled the main seasonings, i.e. basil, parsley and garlic, because I like stronger flavors. I sometimes even add in a couple of hot peppers to spice things up. Otherwise it just ends up tasting like paste to me. But that’s me, do whatever sounds good to you. There are no hard and fast rules with this dish.

Note 3: I cheat and use a can of beans 95% of the time. In this case, I boil everything but the beans, pasta and salt in a smaller quantity of water for a while before adding the beans. Then I let the beans cook long enough to soften up and take on the spice flavors before adding the pasta. This is a much faster method and suitable for last minute meals.



Blogger suttonhoo said...


6:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank god you put in the cheater's method -- that I can do!

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Made this tonight -- delicious! Thanks!

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm addicted to a variation of this. Cheat's method of course. I sautee celery, onion, garlic and rosemary with some olive oil. Then add canned chick peas and chicken broth. Cook for awhile. Then remove some of the chickpeas and food process. Add this back to the pot. Then add with some small soup-type pasta. Cook until the pasta is done. Salt to taste. Top with some olive oil and parm. cheese. Yummy.

5:42 AM  
Blogger heather lorin said...

I'm gonna have to try that variation this weekend - sounds yummy!

10:24 PM  

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