cool beans

pasta fazool

I recently invented this soup, and its become one of our favorites – as it turns out, really just a version of pasta e fagioli (Italian for noodles and beans, also known as pasta fazool). It also happens to be one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made, with the exception of the kind that involve opening a can or two. The first time I made it with freshly shelled borlotti beans from Colony Creek Farm (which were incredible), and the second time I used some locally grown, cupboard-aged Calypso beans (like little Yin-Yangs) that had taken up embarrassing residence in my pantry. Good thing dried beans don’t go bad very quickly.

borlotti beans

Calypso bean

I’ve found that this soup is best when the beans are as soft and creamy as possible. I recently started using a technique that Cook’s Illustrated worked out: soaking the beans in brine, then rinsing them and cooking them at a very slow simmer. It produces incredibly smooth, creamy beans with a soft skin. Well worth doing if you have time to soak them.

This is a seriously warm and comforting soup for a cold, difficult day.

pasta fazool

Pasta Fazool

  • 1 cup beans, dried or fresh-shelled, or 1 can of white beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage (uncased)
  • 2 carrots
  • maybe some celery
  • some chicken stock, or just water
  • 1 cup dried macaroni noodles

If using dried beans: Eight hours before, soak the beans in a bowl of water with a large spoonful of salt mixed in. Before cooking, rinse them thoroughly.

Put the soaked or fresh shell beans into a pan with the bay leaf and cover with water. Bring just to a boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for an hour or until tender. Time will depend on how old and crotchety your beans are.

Dice the carrots and celery and saute them in olive oil in a soup pot. Add the sausage and cook until the pink is gone (or you can cook the sausage in a separate pan if you want to skim off some of the fat). Add the beans and their cooking liquid, then add stock or water until there’s plenty of liquid in the pan. Bring it all to a boil, add the noodles and cook until they’re as done as you like. Add salt if desired. You could add a can of tomatoes as well, if you like.

Eat right away, or stick into the fridge for later reheating. The longer it sits, the better it tastes.

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8 thoughts on “cool beans

  1. yummy! love the simple picture of the Calypso bean.

    Regarding soaking the beans in brine. That’s intriguing. I’ve always thought (and found) that adding salt to the bean-cooking water would inhibit the softening of the beans, leaving you with tough beans. I would have thought that a brine would function similarly; nonetheless, I’d never question the findings of cooks illustrated. Do they give any hint as to why the brine works?

    1. I believe the explanation is that salt in bean cooking water keeps the starch granules from swelling and bursting, creating a gritty/mealy bean. But if you add salt to the cold soaking water, it has the effect of softening the skins without penetrating the beans themselves. Then you cook the beans without added salt. Odd, but it seems to work. The technique is explained in the recipe for “Tuscan bean stew” in issue 91.

  2. “Cupboard-aged” beans? Is that what we were doing, cupboard-aging the beans? And here I thought we were just forgetting to use them. Silly me.

  3. Jessamyn,
    Your site looks great! I’ve been following you on Twitter for a while, but hadn’t visited your site until I saw it on the blogroll for NaBloPoMo! I’m so glad there’s another local doing this – we’ll have to get together and drink when the whole month is up!

    BTW, your photos are *gorgeous*

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