Ten years ago I spent a summer in Tuscany, taking an Italian language immersion course, before spending a year studying at the University of Bologna. I made a point to travel every weekend, whether it was hopping on a bus to a small town, walking into the countryside on a new path, or taking the train to a neighboring city. You know, when your neighboring cities are Florence and Rome.
There is much to fall in love with in Italy and I won’t even begin the litany, but one of the foods I began a deep affair with was one of the simplest peasant dishes served among Tuscans: Pasta e fagioli.
Pasta e fagioli is a broth-based hybrid soup-pasta dish. It’s not as soupy as soup, but it sits in broth and so has significantly more liquid than most pasta dishes. I enjoyed it when it was served as an appetizer in a thin layer covering the bottom of a wide bowl, when you could see all of the ingredients glistening in the tomato and vegetable broth with specks of prosciutto and a healthy dose of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano over the top.
Ever since I left Italy I’ve been on a mission to find a pasta e fagioli recipe that recreates my experience in Tuscany. I have yet to find the perfect dish, but this recipe from Chow has been my go-to for some time. Add prosciutto or bacon and fresh rosemary and sage and you’re about 90% of the way to Florence.
When the weather gets cold, I always turn to pasta e fagioli. It’s a deeply satisfying and hearty, warm dish. After picking up a bottle of Schlafly’s Rye Bock the other day, I thought the two might not be a bad pair. The Rye Bock was also hearty without being too sweet and cloying and had a spicy kick I liked from the rye. I decided to spice up my typical pasta e fagioli recipe with a couple of dried chile peppers. The maltiness of the caramel malts in the beer made a nice, sweet, and bready contrast to the pasta. There are a lot of great ways you can pair the Rye Bock, particularly because it’s sweet. Pork would be ideal. Pasta e fagioli wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing to come to mind, but the beer cut surprisingly well through the acidity of the tomato broth and complemented the smoky bacon I used for this version.
Spicy Pasta e Fagioli
Ingredients for 2 (In theory this should feed four, but if you eat it as an entree, you won’t want to stop eating)
- 1 cup ditalini (or other small pasta)
- 2 cups cannelini beans (if using canned, save the juice; if making on your own, save 4 cups cooking water)
- 5 oz bacon or prosciutto (smoked bacon is okay for this spicy recipe), chopped into small pieces
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
- Rosemary from 3 sprigs, finely chopped
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 dried red chiles
- 1 vegetable bullion cube
Cook pasta in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. Pasta will not be fully cooked. Drain and rinse with a little bit of water so the pasta doesn’t cling together while you work on the other steps.
While the pasta is cooking, puree 1/2 cup of the beans with 2 tbsp water until smooth.
In a pot, cook the bacon until it browns, then add onion and chile peppers and cook over medium heat. When onion is translucent, add garlic, sage, and rosemary. Cook together for one minute and then caramelize tomato paste in the onion mixture, stirring constantly for about two minutes. Add the liquid from the beans, either the cooking liquid if you cooked the beans yourself or from the can; if the liquid is from the can, measure how much you add and then add water to bring the total liquid addition to 4 cups. Add the bullion cube and the 1 1/2 cups leftover beans. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
After simmering, add the pasta and the bean puree and cook until the pasta is done. Salt and pepper to taste. Grate parmesan over the top to serve.