A traditional, peasant-style, and very popular Italian dish, Pasta e Fagioli is typically made with beans (cannellini and/or red kidney beans are commonly used) and small pasta (e.g., ditalini or elbow macaroni), and is somewhere between a soup and a stew in consistency. Many versions are vegetarian containing no meat whatsoever, while others may incorporate chicken or beef stock and perhaps a bit of prosciutto for flavoring. After perusing a number of recipes, I came up with this hearty version, which includes bacon, ground beef (ground turkey would be a great substitute), great Northern white beans, kidney beans, canned chopped tomatoes, garlic, onion, celery, carrot, onion, chicken stock, fresh thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves. I like this dish on the slightly thicker side, so I used Giada De Laurentiis' technique of blending some of the beans in a blender and stirring that into the mixture (check out her recipe in Giada's Family Dinners). This is one of those dishes that tastes even better after a day or two.
1 lb. ground beef or ground turkey
4 slices bacon (or 1 cup prosciutto), chopped
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 small red onion, finely diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
15 oz. can of V-8 or tomato juice
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans (do not drain)
2 15-oz. cans Great Northern or cannellini beans (do not drain)
1 15-oz. can Great Northern or cannellini beans (for blending)
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 6" sprig of fresh rosemary
2 6" sprigs of fresh thyme
2 fresh bay leaves (ok to use dried)
32 oz. low sodium chicken broth
8 cups water
1/2 lb. small pasta (ditalini or elbow macaroni work well)
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh basil, julienned
Parmesan cheese, shaved or shredded
1. Add 2 tbsp. of olive oil to a large stock pot and heat over medium high heat. Add the ground meat and chopped bacon and sauté for 5-10 minutes until the meat is browned.
2. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until the veggies are tender.
3. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato juice, 1 can of kidney and 2 cans of Great Northern or cannellini beans (including their liquid), pepper, salt, fresh herbs, chicken broth and 8 cups water.
4. In the meantime, blend 1 can of Great Northern/cannellini beans with their liquid in a blender or processor until smooth. Stir into the pot of soup/stew. Bring mixture up to a boil, then reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour.
5. Cook the pasta according to package instructions, drain, then add to the bean mixture. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes, then remove from heat.
6. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with julienned fresh basil and shaved or shredded parmesan cheese.