Monday, November 22, 2010

Depression Era Pasta e Fagioli

This is quite possibly one of the recipes closest to my heart. It was my Grandmother's. God rest her soul.

She would always make this meal for my brother and I when we spent the night at her house.

Decades ago, when I was a wee girl, she taught me to make this in her little granny kitchen. She showed me the steps, one by one.

She made it very clear that there is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to do this. Agreed. It must be done exactly as described here or it won't turn out right.

That said, I've heard my sweet husband say that this meal reminds him of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti O's.

Seriously? I don't think he meant to knock my favorite childhood meal. This statement is simply evidence that he did not grow up with a true Italian cook in the kitchen. He's not used to the refined taste of poor-man's pasta and beans soup.

I'll forgive him.

Besides, it is my kids' favorite thing to eat.

Please note that this Pasta e Fagioli soup will not taste like the soup you order at Olive Garden, Macaroni Grill or any other Italian eatery. This is Pasta Fajoli (as Grandma liked to spell it) from the kitchen of a little Italian grandmother who grew up during the Great Depression with 19 brothers and sisters.

Enough said.

2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
15 oz tomato sauce
1 can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed (or use Cannellini beans if you can't find Great Northern)
1 lb ditalini pasta (we use Tinkyada shells instead)
1 tsp basil, dried crushed
1 tsp oregano, dried crushed

The Preparation Method:

Photo Disclaimer: The lighting conditions in The Little White Kitchen were particularly bad on this fine Wednesday evening. Please consider these photos a work of Contemporary Art more than Fine Food Photography. Thank you.

Dice the onion.

Prep the garlic. To make this painstaking process surprisingly simple, here's a fantastic tip I learned from watching all the fancy chefs on the Food Network. Cut the end off the garlic clove. Place the clove on the prep surface, place your fat knife on top of it. Give it a good slap with the palm of your hand. Ta-da! The skin peels itself off. Why did it take me two decades to learn this trick?

Mince the garlic.

This piece is called, "Olive Oil in Blue and Green".

And this piece is called, "Why the heck is it so hard to take a photo of onions that doesn't turn out yellow and gross?"

Saute the onions, basil and oregano in the hot oil over medium heat for five minutes.

Add the garlic. Continue to saute for two minutes more.

Add tomato sauce. Simmer. Keep stirring.

Now is the time to get the pasta boiling. Tinkyada is hands-down the best gluten-free pasta we've found for our beloved Italian recipes.

Cook the pasta Al Dente. For Tinkyada pasta, this is about 10-12 minutes or so. For this recipe to turn out right, you MUST NOT cook it until it is soft. Drain the pasta when it is softened but still hard in the center. As all true Italian cooks do, salt your water generously, at least two tablespoons or more.

Back to the sauce. Keep stirring. Add water from the can to thin the sauce as you go along. A couple of tablespoons at a time. Do this at least twice throughout the 30 minutes of simmering.

Also, be sure to scrape the thick buildup of sauce back into the pan. As Grandma always said, "That's the good stuff."

Stir in the Great Northern (or Cannellini) beans. Keep stirring the sauce.

When the pasta is perfectly Al Dente, drain the water off the top. Don't drain it all. Leave enough water in the pot so that it is about 1/2 inch above the macaroni.

The sauce is ready after approximately 30 minutes of simmering. Pour it over the pasta directly into the pasta pot.

Scrape the thick sauce from the sides of the saucepan and add to the soup.

Stir it all together, bring to a low boil and cook at least five minutes to enhance the flavor. It is done when the pasta is cooked to your liking and the sauce thickens. Usually somewhere between five and ten minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

This is one of Grandma's favorite artists. She too liked to dance while she cooked. It's in the genes. Thanks Grandma for leaving us such a rich love of music and dancing and love of true Italian food.

Dean Martin - Volare

Find the printable recipe here.


  1. This looks so yummy! I am going to make this for myself tonight, with a little parm cheese on top because we aren't df. :)

    Have you tried ancient harvest quinoa-corn pasta? I used to be a tinkyada fan until I tried AH.

  2. Hey SugarMama,

    Hope you enjoy it. I don't think I mentioned it in the recipe, but it's really quick, about 30 minutes start to finish.

    Thanks for the tip about Ancient Harvest pasta, but unfortunately we are also corn-free as well lately!

  3. This sounds good...i'm adding it to my recipe collection...i know my family will enjoy it

  4. That's enough salt to kill a bull elephant!

  5. For real, Charlie! It's a ton of salt, just like Grandma used to do it :)

  6. Chef boyardee didn't make Spaghettios.


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