Recipe: Pasta e Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli is a traditional Italian "peasant" dish meaning pasta and beans.   Pronounced in the United States as "Pasta Fazool", the best description I can give you is that it's a very thick soup... how thick it is.. depends on how you like it.
It can be meatless or not, depending on how you want to make it.  Recipes vary widely, some use sausage, others use ground beef or still others even use shredded pork. 
This recipe is a basic one... not entirely meatless ... it starts with some chopped pancetta, an Italian bacon or salt pork.  If you can't find pancetta, ask your deli meat counter manager or the grocery manager if they carry it.  I've found it in different places in different stores. 
If you can't find it after asking, then you can substitute bacon or salt pork.  You can find salt pork usually in the meat department by the hams.
I really like using Hunts Diced Tomatoes.  I think I've tried all their varieties and found them all excellent.  I used the two types listed in the ingredient list, you can use one of the other varieties in place of them.  If you use a plain variety, keep in mind you may have to adjust the spices to compensate.
I used Italian Seasoning to season this and we liked it.. it was quick and easy.  You can use whatever herbs and spices you prefer... the kinds of spices you would like in your tomato sauces would work well.
Remember to remove the bay leaf before serving.
If you prefer fresh herbs, by all means .. use them in place of the Italian Seasoning listed... just remember their flavors will be more intense.
A lot of recipes add chopped celery, my taste tester is not fond of celery so I left it out, ordinarily I would have added 1 stalk of celery, finely diced.
I used baby carrots and sliced them, they make perfect little pieces of carrot... you don't want large pieces to overwhelm the other ingredients.
I used chicken broth in this recipe, if you need to make it completely meatless, use a vegetable broth instead and omit the pancetta.
Any small pasta will work with this dish, I had tiny shells, so I used them.  You can use whatever very small pasta you have on hand, including elbows.
You can add the pasta directly into the pot and cook it in it or cook the pasta separately and put it into bowls and pour the "soup" over it.  I put the soup in quotes because I don't want to mislead you, it is thicker than what you might expect from a true soup.
The recipe calls for Cannellini beans, which are white kidney beans.  You can use red kidney beans if you prefer.
That brings me to the next tip, as the beans cook in the rest of the ingredients, the soup will thicken, if you prefer it more soup-like, simply add more broth.
The same goes for the pasta cooking in it, it will thicken up... simply add more broth.
So... big tip here.. make sure when you make this you have extra broth on hand in case you want to thin it out.
Back to the meats that can be added.... you can add ground beef, or Italian sausage, hot or sweet variety or both.  Cook the meat separately so it does dump a lot of grease into it... I would leave the pancetta out if you want to use sausage, the pancetta flavor will get lost, so why add the unnecessary fat.
Serve this with Parmesan and/or Romano cheese... it's a must!  A nice glass of Chianti too is advised.
A side salad would complete your meal, although, we like just soup and bread for dinner too.
This dish almost requires some sort of bread, crusty bread is best,  to be served with it...  you need it to mop up all that deliciousness at the bottom of your bowl!

Recipe:  Pasta e Fagioli
All you need:
4 oz pkg. chopped pancetta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves (3 small or 2 large), finely diced
1 cup sliced carrots
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 can Hunts Diced Tomatoes with Rosemary and Oregano
1 can Hunts Diced Tomatoes with Green Pepper, Celery and Onion
2 cans low sodium Cannellini Beans (white kidney beans) *See TIPS
5-6 cups chicken broth (fat free/low sodium)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups very small macaroni
All you need to do:
In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the pancetta and brown lightly for a few minutes.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery and cook for a few minutes until the onions soften.
Add the Italian seasoning, tomatoes, beans, broth and bay leaf.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.  Turn the heat up again to high and bring to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked.
Add any additional broth to bring it to the thickness you prefer and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. If you added broth cook for a few minutes to make sure it's heated through.
Serve in bowls with shaved or shredded Parmesan and/or Romano cheese (if not available, grated cheese will work fine).

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