Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How about Pasta e Fagioli for dinner tonight?

A couple of years ago, I went to Olive Garden with some friends from the ministry where I work, and I remember enjoying a soup called Pasta e Fagioli. We don't eat out very much, so I haven't been back to Olive Garden, and when I saw a recipe for this soup in my copy of The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, I knew that I'd have to make a point of trying it.

I wasn't at all disappointed. It had more vegetables than the Olive Garden version, and this Pasta e Fagioli recipe is one we'll definitely make again. It's hearty and satisfying, with a great tasting base, starting with chicken broth, but then flavored with bacon, red pepper flakes, oregano, and lots of tomato, onion, and garlic. You top it all off with some grated fresh Parmesan.

6 slices bacon, chopped medium
1 large onion, chopped finely
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
28 oz. diced tomatoes
2 (15.5-oz.) cans cannellini beans, rinsed
3-1/2 cups chicken broth
2-1/2 cups water
1 tsp. salt (I used garlic salt)
8 oz. pasta (traditionally something like orzo, but I used small penne)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley (I used a tablespoon or so of dried)
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry the bacon in a large heavy pot over medium heat until crisp. Stir in the onion, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the onion is softened. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, beans, broth, water, and garlic salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in the pasta and cook until just slightly underdone. (Note: You want to be sure not to overcook the pasta, especially if you're using orzo or another really small kind of pasta, because you don't want the pasta to become mushy in your soup.) Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle individual bowls with Parmesan.

Note: Traditionally, you also drizzle a little olive oil on each serving of soup as a finishing step, but I always try to cut calories where I can (especially when the extra oil doesn't seem necessary). So I just topped each bowl with the Parmesan.

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