Known as Pasta Fazool in some circles, this dish remains a healthy favorite
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 stalk celery, chopped coarsely
1 medium onion, chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 pound dried Soldier beans or cannellini beans
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 cups chicken broth
14-ounce can tomatoes, drained
1 rind (about 1/4 pound) Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 ounces very small cut tubular pasta, such as ditali
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
extra-virgin olive oil, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and chopped fresh basil for garnish
1. Place the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Add the celery, onion, and garlic, and cook until they're soft, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, dried herbs, broth, 3 cups of water, tomatoes, and cheese rind. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft, about 1 to 2 hours (depending on the age of your beans).
2. When beans are soft, remove cheese rind from the pot and add the pasta. Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until pasta is done. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Serve in wide bowls, garnishing each serving with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, about a tablespoon of cheese, and about a teaspoon of fresh basil.
Pasta Fazool, with its bizarre Brooklyn pronunciation, sounds like the ultimate Italian-American dish. And it was a staple for years of Little Italy's checkered-tablecloth restaurants—until the upscaling of the eighties did away with such dishes. Today, of course, a new wave of rustic Italian restaurants, in the United States, is showing Americans that pasta fazool was based on something authentic: pasta e fagioli, or a steaming, satisfying soup of beans and pasta. The following version may be the best one you've ever tasted, because it calls for a rind of Parmigiano-Reggiano to be cooked right in the soup, which gives the dish amazing depth—and it certainly gives you something to do with your rind after you've grated the cheese away. Serves 4 as a main course