Chop chop

A few weeks ago, while held hostage by a budget airline and their inevitable delays, and trapped in an early morning departure lounge purgatory at Stanstead airport, I found myself – yet again – clutching an oversized, overmilked cappuccino and perusing the magazine section of W H Smith.

I’m devoted to newspapers, but apart from the occasional Time Out when I’m back in London and the even more occasional fat, shiny decor or fashion tome – the ones that seem a good idea at the news stand but inevitably depress me and only redeem themselves when cut up and used to teach small Italian children vocabulary: sofa, chair, coat – I generally don’t buy magazines. Except at the airport that is. Over the last five years, zigzagging back and forth from Rome to London with airlines that seem determined to squeeze every ounce of joy out of flying, I’ve developed an airport magazine habit.

It’s all extremely random. I’ve bought and then slept under the Economist on more than one occasion. I digested marginally more of Time, but still arrived in Rome with it stuck to my cheek. I’ve spent several flights trying to memorize large chunks of Mojo and Rolling Stone in an attempt to impress Vincenzo and Decanter Magazine, Good Housekeeping (for a bad housekeeper) Gardeners World, World of Interiors and Natural Health (which brought me out in hives) have all been purchased and perused at 35,000 feet. I’m not sure what possessed me to buy 220 Triathlon, but I did: just reading it gave me tendonitis. I nearly regurgitated my cappuccino while compulsively flicking through the car crash that is Hello. I discovered I have a soft spot for Vanity Fair in Italian, Quiz Weekly and maybe more surprisingly, National Geographic while flying over the French alps.

Anyway, on this particular delayed flight, although tempted by the Dr Who Adventures, my cappuccino and I bought a food magazine, the summer addition of Jamie magazine. I’ve actually bought this magazine at the airport before, it’s rather like the inimitable Mr Oliver himself: immensely likable, unpretentious, impeccably marketed, accessible, passionate, pucker. The same can be said for the great food and recipes.

I gobbled it all up giddily, inhaling a BBQ special, the a six page spread on ice-cream, an ode to Fish and chips (the brilliant Mathew Fort I should add) and an article on scones and afternoon tea. I inhaled recipes for chicken tikka masala, pub grub and lunchtime pasta. I zigzagged from England to Italy via France taking in India before crashing back to England again – my tummy rumbled. I started folding down corners, if I’d had post-it’s I would have adhered.

Then something happened. It was when I reached the fold-out Monthly menu – ‘four weeks worth of ideas, ingredients and recipes…‘ My heart sank, a wave of exhaustion drowned my enthusiasm and I realised I didn’t want any of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love trying new recipes, but at that precise moment the mere thought of trying any of the 55 beautifully photographed globetrotting monthly menu suggestions in the next four weeks made me feel dizzy. I realised I couldn’t think of many things I’d like less than Mexican on Monday, Greek on Tuesday, Italian on Wednesday, fish and chips on Thursday, chicken tikka masala on Friday, tuna Provencale on Saturday and a full monty of a Sunday roast on Sunday, all punctuated by equally international lunches, snacks and cocktails. I’d like a cupboard full of the all the basics to produce this themepark of grub even less.

Of course I don’t think for a moment Jamie and his team of writers and passionate food people imagine we are going to cook our way through the entire months worth of suggestions, or even half of them, Or do they? Anyway my head, my stomach and I, all utterly exhausted by all the global food excitement and ‘amazing‘ recipes, balanced Jamie magazine on our face and slept for the rest of the flight.

As the train rattled noisily from Ciampino into Rome, as the 170 bus swerved deeply through Piazza Venezia I realised something: as much as I love smoothing back the page of a new recipe, as much as I relish enthusiastic kitchen experimentation and exploration, new flavours and adventures, most of the time I am more than happy with our familiar, well-loved, habitual platefuls. I am deeply content, week after week, month after month with, lets say, spaghetti and tomato sauce – ideally twice a week, tagliatelle with ragu, a omelette, a rare steak with tomato salad, pasta and beans, pasta and brocolli, fried eggs on toast, a plain cake, mashed potato with peas, plain roast chicken, poached fish with mayonnaise. If this is punctuated once, maybe twice a week by the something new, I am even happier. I am always amazed when people tell me they never cook them same thing twice! I nearly always cook things twice, and if they are good, if they become part of our lives, I cook them 123 times. Maybe now you understand why I only write once a week.

So after all that, it seems appropriate that todays recipe is one of the faithful ones, pasta e fagioli, pasta and beans. Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with this superb Italian classic – I wasn’t until I moved to Rome – pasta e fagioli is best described as a thick, creamy bean soup (on this occasion made with the exquisite mottled borlotti beans that have a soft, nutty, earthy flavour) studded with more whole beans and fortified with pasta. I’ve written about this soup and others like it before – most notably pasta e ceci – because along with pasta e pommodoro, it’s probably one of the things we eat most.

I like making pasta fagioli as much as I like eating it, door open, radio on, it’s a well practised routine. First the borlotti; cracking open their mottled pods to reveal the exquisite pink and white beans. Then the peeling and chopping, first the garlic, then the onion, carrot and celery, three piles; orange, red and green. Next the gentle sizzle of the soffrito and the scent of garlic and rosemary curling from the pan. Raising the flame and hearing a proper sizzle as you add the tomatoes, beans, bean broth and water to the pan. I like listening to the gentle gurgle as the soup simmers happily on the back of the stove, the amusing squelch as you pass the soup through the food mill and the riotous bubble as the pasta cooks in the chestnut coloured panful.

Then you eat. Now this has to be one of the most delicious, nourishing, honest dishes I know. Vincenzo – who has grown up eating pasta e fagioli – calls it the mothership lunch and goes into a contented trance in it’s presence. For us, this is required eating.

Now, I don’t feel I’ve explained the recipe particularly well today, blame it on my post holiday rambling. If you are going to try this recipe you might like to read the pasta e ceci post too.

Pasta e Fagioli

serves 4

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion very finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic peeled and gently squashed with the back of a knife
  • 1 small chilli very finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot very finely diced
  • 1 stick celery with leaves very finely diced
  • a sprig of rosemary
  • 150g of peeled, deseeded and chopped tomatoes or tinned plum tomatoes
  • 500g shelled fresh borlotti or 170g dried beans soaked and precooked for 30mins less than instructed or 500g of tinned borlotti
  • I litre of bean cooking water (add water if you don’t have enough)
  • a parmesan rind
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 250g dried pasta(we used the snail-like lumache but ditalini or broken tagliatelle work really well too)

If you are using dried beans soak them for 12 hours or overnight. Drain, cover with fresh water and cook for about 1 and a half hours or until they are nearly cooked (subtract 30 minutes from your usual cooking time), they will finish cooking in the soup. Drain, keep bean water and set aside.

In a large heavy based pan warm the oil and add the onion and garlic, gently saute until they soft and transparent. Add the celery, carrot, chili and rosemary stir once or twice to coat with oil, and then allow to cook gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomatoes, stir and leave to bubble away gently for another 10 minutes.

Add the beans, stir to coat them thoroughly and then add the bean water and parmesan rind. Cover the pan and bring to a gentle boil and then turn down the heat cook the soup at a lively simmer for about 30 – 40 minutes or until the beans are fully tender. Tinned beans will only need about 20 minutes.

Remove the parmesan rind and the rosemary. You now want to puree about half of the soup by passing it through a food mill or using a stick blender. Once you’ve done this return it to the pan. Season the soup with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remember you are about to add pasta so be generous with the salt.

Check the soup for density, it should be liquid enough to cook the pasta in so you may need to add a little more water. Bring the soup to a steady, moderate boil and add the pasta. If you are using fresh pasta , it will only take a minute or so, dried pasta will take longer, check the packet for timing – you need to keep an eye on it and stir every now and then, otherwise it may stick. Stop cooking once the pasta is tender but firm to the bite.

Allow the soup to sit and settle for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a dribble of extra virgin olive oil and some freshly grated parmesan if you like.

To avoid post lunch slump after such a hearty bowlful, espresso is recommended

It’s really good to be back, I’ve missed being here, I’ve missed you all. I didn’t mean to stay away so long, I even missed my anniversary on the 7th of this month – 2 years of Rachel Eats. Not that it’s too late to celebrate, or more importantly to say thank you to you all for reading. How about we all meet at the bar in Piazza Testaccio at 8 tonight for a prosecco, I’m buying. Oh and thank you for all your nice comments and messages over the last few weeks, sorry I haven’t replied yet, I will.


Filed under Beans and pulses, food, pasta and rice, Rachel's Diary, recipes

80 responses to “Chop chop

  1. love your writing- welcome back. x shayma

  2. Welcome home 🙂

    It’s seems we both had Jamie on the brain with our posts today.

  3. I think you have some Italian at heart. Love the recipes that you come back to over and over, bringing you comfortingly home. In America, we have the schizophrenic cupboards that produce Jamie’s monthy menu, but since hooking up with my Italian man, I’ve witnessed a subtle shift. An entire shelf is devoted to pasta now! Missed your posts – welcome back!

  4. Gadia

    you explained this recipe and much more, lyrically and scrumptiously well. it always makes me feel a little more joyously grounded in the world after reading you. thank you and here’s to cooking the same dishes and your new ones many many times….

  5. suz

    I find that I cook the same things over and over for a season or two and then, somehow, they fall off the radar and I forget them for a couple years… which serves to make them new and interesting again 🙂

    welcome home (to both your blog home and your real home!) and Happy Anniversary!

    • rachel

      I know about things falling off the radar too, and yes you are right they come back with delicious vigour. It’s good to be back Suz.

  6. I love your blog and the calmness it exudes. And your recipes look delicious. Happy 2 year anniversary!

  7. I Love Italian Food. My wife and I went to Rome last December and got our fill. Anyone been to Rome? What was your favorite Restaurant there?

  8. sam

    When I hear people not cooking the same thing twice I sometimes feel uncreative or boring, I love to experiment in the kitchen but I also find myself cooking certain dishes over and over because we love them so. I can’t imagine not to.
    I really like your blog fun to read and I haven’t found a recipe that I didn’t like.
    – Sam

  9. Welcome back, hope the wedding was wonderful. Happy 2nd anniversary. You and Tracy are so in tune with one another, I just read her post about Jamie and then opened yours to find Jamie. I am glad you cook things 123 times.

  10. This soup looks lovely and comforting. I love beany/pasta-y things.
    And I was just thinking the other day that I ought to spend more time making the same things again and again – it’s so easy to get distracted by new ideas. But I really don’t understand people who never ever eat the same thing twice – how are you going to get the hang of things?

    • rachel

      Nora – excatly, how? I love the way Italians spend a lifetime making the same tomato sauce, the same pasta fagioli, the same arrosto…

  11. Such a soothing dish… perfect for a ‘welcome home’ dinner.
    Happy 2nd anniversary. Here’s to more years of creativity and sharing of wonderful recipes!

  12. Very enjoyable post. Loved hearing about your airport reading habits. I grew up eating pasta e fagioli or pasta e ceci more times than I’m able to count, and I still love them.

  13. SRM

    Definitely missed your posts while you were gone but what a great one to come back to! Hope you had a wonderful vacation!

  14. Welcome back. I always enjoy your writing and the style of your photos, which look, to me, refreshingly unstaged.

  15. Rach–missed your great writing and rambles and recipes-
    happy blogiversary!
    here’s to more rich adventures–

  16. I’ve been traveling too and good lord but I wish someone would make me a bowl of this!

  17. Congratulation on blog’s birthday! 😉

    You are such an amazingly talented writer! And the soup.. I dont think its name or ingredients are tempting.. but your describtions have the power to make me run to the kitchen and MAKE IT.

    Welcome back.

  18. Belated congrats on your anniversary!

    Your recipe couldn’t have come at a better time; not only do I actually have all the ingredients in the house, but I woke up with what might be a descending cold, having left the windows open over night on a particularly cold one. Can’t wait to give your recipe a whirl. Thanks again for a fantastic read, Rachel.

  19. Lavi

    auguri racheleats ❤

  20. bonjourkitty

    Lovely x

  21. There is a comfort in what we know and when what we know is as beautiful a selection as what you know, well, why not continue. Happy anniversary and welcome home.

  22. I am EXACTLY the same in the food department and certain dishes come out with weekly regularity – my especial favourite is Fridge Scraping Soup (as the family call it) – empty the contents of the fridge at the end of the week into a pot – add stock – voila!

  23. Rach

    Happy Anniversary! I was so pleased to see a new post today. I’ve bookmarked this recipe for tomorrow night’s dinner. Love the last photo, we just bought our own hob espresso maker yesterday – bliss. x

  24. Dea

    Ciao bella,
    welcome back 🙂
    mmmm pasta e fagioli, an all time favourite in our household as well. I eat it minus the pasta as I am forever struggling with my weight. But it’s comforting, nourishing, and healthy. A bit of parmigiano, a dribbling of good quality olive oil and you are done. Also, like you I dont’ miss a lthe international fare in the US and at the risk of being wrong as I don’t really know the UK, never actually having visited, we are even more international and it seems forced now after years of simple and high quality Italian fare.
    I hope you are rested and well, un abbraccio, your friend Dea in Marsala xoxo

  25. You’re back! YAY! Now I’ve got a good craving for pasta e fagioli….But, since I certainly don’t have any beans nearly as lovely as the borlotti sitting home, pasta e ceci will have to do.

    And you’re lucky I have no plans (rats!) to visit Italy any time soon, because I’m certain I would try and make you meet me out somewhere for gelato and to give you an awkward hug. You’re site gives me the warm and fuzzies for Italy in the very best way. Lucky girl! 🙂

  26. Dea

    Oh btw augurissimi per il tuo 7° anniversario del blog… 🙂

  27. It’s not often I feel conflicted about your point, but in this case I do. We have cupboard after cupboard of interesting items purchased for one of our flights of fancy that we come back to only rarely before they’ve gone west, but yet we also eat a comparatively straight-forward, familiar diet most of the time. It’s an enormous waste of money, I admit, but if there is one purchasing compulsion I can’t resist it’s an unknown condiment for a one-off dish. I suspect I would be susceptible to the suggestions of Jamie magazine for the simple reason that it might remind me that I have all these expensive and unusual items screaming to be eaten up!

    • rachel

      J -I am not immune to wonderful ingredient compulsions myself and (despite this rather post holiday I need my routine back post) I love cooking adventures….. but most of the time I am really quite boring.

  28. 1. welcome back

    2. had to giggle over the magazines and children’s reading bit. was just thinking tonight of oblitering several magazines in service of my five year old.

    3. do those wee espresso machines truly produce a great cup? crema and all? i’ve always wondered, never had a soul to ask. i suspect you and yours would know.

    4. borlotti beans. sigh…

    • rachel

      Thank you Molly

      Ok, we love the mokka (especially with illy coffee inside) There is probably not quite as much crema and it is not as refined as cup as a good machine makes but it makes a lovely intense espresso and the sound is wonderful.

  29. Amen, sister.

    I love to read cookbooks all the way through–like a novel–and then get back to cooking. The ideas and techniques sort of work their way into the repertoire if they’re a good fit.

    I was invited to come to Italy for a week in October to cook, but it was not to be. Nobody has any money these days.

    • rachel

      Shame – but maybe that means you will come to Italy (Rome) at artichoke time and we can overdose at that place near colloseum.

  30. Hi Rachel!

    This is Jennie up in Milan. I’ve been referencing your blog ever since your granita post blew me away and impressed the pants off all our Italian friends. This post really made me giggle, especially after just writing an “I have a crush on Jamie Oliver” post on my blog. That said, I totally relate to your overwhelm, and my Italian boyfriend and I constantly make the same simple recipes over and over as well. I’m looking forward to getting hooked on some of yours. This soup looks delicious.

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  32. Val

    I always happen to be stuck in Luton airport on my way ‘home’. The WH Smith there seems to have every the entire Jamie Oliver collection. Last time I gave in and bought one.

    But I more often find myself drawn to those magazine racks. It’s a giddying experience. I’m always rushing through. I impress myself when I grab the Economist. It’s only when I’m on the plane and we’ve taken off, my head is happily lolling about as I go deeper into sleep, and the Economist is slowly slipping through my fingers. That’s when I realise that there really was no need to go near the magazines.

    Your Pasta e Fagioli looks wonderful. I will be giving it a try this week. Fingers crossed the Husband will approve. I’d love for this to become a weekly staple.

    • rachel

      Val – I have to say the Economist is probably my favourite magazine to fall asleep under, followed by Time. Luton airport, ah yes, I have spent many an hour there.
      As for the pasta fagioli, I hope it becomes a staple too, it is lovely and gets better and better the more you make it – fingers crossed here too.

  33. Amy

    I just discovered your blog today – via a link from Wednesday Chef. Now I can’t stop thinking about this recipe…I can tell it will become a staple once I translate the measurements and find a good substitute for the beans. Any suggestions you can offer would be wonderful.

    • rachel

      Sorry to take so Long – i am terrible blog slow at the moment. If you can’t find borlotti (which are cranberry beans in the Us) cannelini, butter beans or chickpeas (in which case it is pasta e ceci) work well.

  34. Happy anniversary. Thank YOU for the gift of your blog – so generous of self, spirit and good things to eat.

  35. Luke

    Hi Rachel,

    Love your blog. It’s recently taken over the top spot in my food bookmarks. I’m making your pasta e fagioli as I type but am actually wondering about the size/thickness of the guanciale in the pasta all’ amatriciana recipe. I’d had the butcher slice it about 1/4 in. thick so as to be able to dice it for the carbonara, and so used that same thickness when cutting the ‘thick matchsticks’ for the former recipe. I’m imagining yours to have been thinner as the sticks of guanciale were easily visible in mine and I can’t see them at all in yours. It smelled delicious when it was cooking with the onion, but I actually picked them out of the final dish as they were rubbery. Any advice is much appreciated!

    Thanks for the site!

    • rachel

      Hi Luke,
      Thanks for your message. Ok I cut my guanciale by hand – all very slapdash I’m afaid – I think you can see the size in my carbonara post (called 6 years) and at the top of my most recent amatriciana post. I suppose my matchsticks are about 3mm wide and 1.5cm long – but as i said, it’s all very random. The onion, ok I am really fussy and use very mild white onions or sweet red one,s as young and juicy as possible and I chop them really really finely, then cook them slowly until they have almost melted. I am so glad you made the pasta fagioli, it is one of my absolute faves and I hope it turned out well.
      All the best rach

  36. Matt

    Hi Rachel,

    I just made this last night and have to say it was absolutely delicious. I do have a couple questions however if you have the time.

    Parmesan Rind…what should this look like when you take it out? I think I took mine out too soon as it seemed to be completely breaking down and I feared there would be nothing left to retrieve.

    Noodles…how do you keep them from consuming all the liquid in the soup? I have made pasta e fagioli in the past and yours was the first to seem to have quite a bit of water so I thought this was going to be it. However when I returned for just a taste more, the noodles had really swelled up and the dish took on a much thicker, tighter consistency than in your picture above.


    • rachel

      Hello matt,
      Ok the parmesan rind should still be pretty intact – soggy and soft – but still in one piece. I wonder how big and thick your rind was – mine is usually about 4cm sq and 1cm thick.
      I don’t think you should worry too much about it breaking down though, more flavour for the dish.
      As for the density – I don’t think you can stop the pasta absorbing water, even when I make a pretty liquid pasta e fagioli (i have no fear about adding more water or stock while the pasta is cooking) the pasta swells eventually. Sometimes I add more water when it comes to second helpings and the contents of the pan is terribly thick, it makes thing a bit diluted but a dribble of oil and more cheese resolves that, or I relish a super dense plateful. Having said all that, I am experimenting with a more liquid pasta e ceci at the moment so I will keep you informed. Hope at least some of this rambling is useful.

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  43. I have seen this only now, and it looks so good! I am on a mission to try all the pasta e fagioli there are out there. This is next.

    On the new recipes, I hear you. I own so many cookbooks I only flap through for daydreaming and lovely pictures…I always cook from the same three.

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