Pasta and bean soup

One morning lying in bed I was perusing Facebook (as one does, while you delay the inevitable) and I saw a post for One-Pot Pasta e Fagioli (Italian Pasta and Bean Stew). “One Pot!” I thought to myself, “that means it’s really easy to throw together!” So after perusing the recipe and noting a hearty helping of bacon and pasta and spinach, I took a screen shot of the recipe and saved it up for a later date.

Sometime later, we had a snowstorm come through and it looked like the following day would be spent working from home. What a perfect day for soup! I pulled the little recipe I’d saved up out of my Photos album (ok, I admit it, I don’t have a special recipes album, all my photos are in one big generic album, but wouldn’t it be cool if I did? Maybe I will start one…). Skimming the recipe on the subway, I realized that I’d need to soak some cannellini beans overnight. Lucky me that I noticed this ahead of time! No seriously. I have penchant for stopping my reading of a recipe after the ingredients list.  I visited my lovely new Whole Foods at 3rd and 3rd (3rd Street and 3rd Avenue in Gowanus – the first WF in Brooklyn!) and stocked up on all the ingredients. Arriving home, I followed the directions and started soaking the beans. What an adventure! I’d never done this before! It felt so homemade and slightly rustic. A real DIY moment.

The next day arrived, and as predicted, snow kept me home. But work was busy, no time to cook soup, particularly as I read further in the recipe and noted that the beans would need a further two to two and a half hours to cook after they’d been soaked! The next day I certainly did not have time after work for such nonsense, and Friday evening – well no one wants to cook that much on Friday, between going out for dinner or collapsing exhausted on the couch with a glass of wine and rolling through what’s been recorded on your DVR from the prior week. Saturday was lost to errands (and/or brunching and socializing) and Sunday was a write-off given my pounding head.

But what was I to now do with a pot of beans that had been sitting on the stove in a pot of salted water with a lid on for days? The thought, honestly, was terrifying. After joking about it with my brother on FaceTime, I took him with me (virtually) to investigate what I’d created. It actually wasn’t as bad as I thought. There were some weird foamy bubble layer on the top, but no noticeable signs of mold or decay! Just a really stinky cheese smell (I suppose that given cheese is just moldy milk, there was probably something funky going on). Cleaned up nice and easy peasy, I counted my blessings. But I still had no soup. Matt and I debated whether or not the beans were fine, but concluded that starting over would be less painful than any food poisoning that could arise from the super soaked beans.

Keeping in mind that I’d bought the slab bacon and the veggies needed for the soup, I needed to try again, and soon. I decided that instead of waiting on a damn pot of beans to soak overnight, I’d just used canned ones! They are cheap and still just as delicious. Plus canned beans are at your disposal, ready when you are. A Google search indicated that I’d want 3 – 4 cans to cover the 1-pound of dried beans the recipe called for. I bought some shortly thereafter.

Which brings me to today, two weeks later. You might be incredulous that the vegetables I purchased so long ago are still okay! I was too. The celery, meh, it was maybe a bit floppy, but you cook it to become soft, and the kale? That’s a pretty hardy leafy green. And my 1980’s refrigerator with the tin wrapped around the light bulb seems to be not as crappy as I thought it was, at least in terms of keeping things fresh!IMG_2602

So here’s the recipe as I saved it down, from TheKitchn.com

Serves 8 to 10

For the beans:

8 cups water

2 1/2 tablespoons salt, divided

1 pound dried cannellini beans

For the soup:

1/2 pound (5 to 6 pieces) thick-cut bacon , diced (or substitute 1 tablespoon olive oil for vegetarian version)

2 large yellow onions, diced

3 celery stalks, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup white wine or water

1 bay leaf

1/2 pound pasta

5 thyme sprigs

10 ounces baby spinach

2 teaspoons salt

Pepper to taste

Combine the water and 1 1/2 tablespoons salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the beans, cover the bowl, and let stand at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

In a heavy stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook the bacon. Once all the fat has rendered, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all put one tablespoon of bacon fat. Cook the onions slowly with 1/2 teaspoon of salt start to caramelize and turn golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the celery and cook just until the celery is softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Remove half of the onion mixture and reserve with the bacon. Deglaze the pan with one cup of wine or water, scraping up any brown residue that has formed on the bottom of the pan.

Drain and rinse the beans and pour them into the pot with the remaining onions. Add the bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of salt, and enough water to cover the beans and onions by 1 inch. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour, then begin checking the beans for doneness. Check the beans every 15 minutes until they are completely soft and creamy. (This can take up to 2 1/2 hours depending on the age and exact variety of your beans.)

→ Make-Ahead Tip: At this point, the soup can be chilled and refrigerated for a day or two before serving. The soup (or a portion of it) can also be frozen for up to three months.

Set the pot of cooked beans over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Add the bacon, reserved onions, thyme, pasta, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Add more water if necessary so the pasta is submerged.

Add the spinach to the pot and stir until it is wilted. Remove the bay leaf and the thyme stems. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired.

This stew will keep for one week refrigerated.

But I made some adjustments. As I mentioned before, I swapped out the overnight process of soaking the beans and cut to the chase – canned beans. It also cut out about 2.25 hours of cook time in the oven; I kept my pot on the stove the whole time. I’m a busy lady – I ‘aint got time for that! Also note that “One-pot” does not necessarily mean easy, it just means one pot. But hopefully the modifications I’ve made to the recipe can guide you to make this actually quite delicious soup without you feeling like you’ve lost years of your life to it.

So – skip the bean soaking and the pre-heating of the oven and proceed straight to the bacon. Do not pass go, do not collect $100. You shouldn’t be too sad about the $100 though, you’re about to cook slab bacon. YUM! I might suggest hiding the bacon tidbits when you’re done and have taken them out of the pot – their quantity can quickly diminish if you’re a snacker. Or even if you like bacon at all.IMG_2595 IMG_2597I did use two onions – I thought that was too much, but it ended up just fine. Similarly with the four cloves of garlic – the flavor is great, not too intense. I do love garlic, so for those of you who are a bit sensitive to it, maybe reduce it a little. Embarrassing as it is, I didn’t have any white wine on hand and felt that deglazing with water was… not my first choice. I used chicken stock instead. If you do the same, keep in mind that you’ll want to reduce the amount of salt you add as you follow the recipe.

I added my rinsed canned beans (Woot! Life hack!) and kept the soup cooking on medium high for about thirty minutes with the lid on. You could probably reduce that by about half, as by the end of the whole process my beans were VERY creamy. IMG_2598

I then added the remaining ingredients, and because I chose to use kale, I added it then, knowing it’d need more time to soften than if I’d used baby spinach.IMG_2599 IMG_2600

Why kale you ask? It’s not because it’s the trendy, popular green, shockingly enough! Firstly, I wanted a heartier, more textured green in my soup to offset the squishy beans, and limp spinach, while good in other dishes, sort of made me less excited about this soup. Secondly, it’s about a billion times cheaper than baby spinach. Or even than grown up, bunched spinach. Two bunches of kale is the perfect amount.

So that brings me to my last modification. If you go to TheKitchn.com and search for the recipe (I couldn’t get the link to work), you’ll notice that they used a very delicious looking Cavatappi pasta shape. I used artisanal local pasta. I do live in Brooklyn, after all. Plus they are wagon wheels. I must have been channeling my inner five year old as well.

After adding the remaining ingredients, I let the pot to cook until the kale and pasta were satisfyingly tender, seasoned with a little ground pepper, and voila! I have soup for about a week and a half! Bon appétit!!

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