Ask a dozen people what they call ‘comfort food’, and you’ll likely get a dozen answers. Maybe for some it’s chicken noodle soup, and for others it’s meatloaf. Or maybe it’s macaroni and cheese, like my mom used to make it, crusty on top and with lots of stringy cheddar cheese. My wife might even think of fried chicken. But for many people with an Italian heritage, nothing says comfort like a bowl of Paste e Fagioli. And I have to say I can’t argue with that one bit.
Literally, Pasta e Fagioli is Italian for pasta and beans. Every region of Italy has a different idea on how to make this simple traditional food. For some it’s a meatless dish, combining beans and pasta with some aromatic vegetables in a broth. Other versions have beef or pork in them. Some only use a little pancetta bacon. And different beans and pasta are used too, depending on the preferences of the cook or what’s available. Some versions are thick, while others are thinner with more broth. There are countless ways to combine the common denominators of pasta and beans, and it’s all good, I say! Give me a bowl of Pasta e Fagioli and some good crusty bread and I’m a happy camper.
I’ve made this dish lots of different ways, with and without meat, and with white beans, red beans, borlotto beans, or with combinations of more than one bean. All of them were comfort food to me. I love to start by simmering some meaty soup bones until the meat is tender, then adding the rest of the ingredients to the meat and broth. But I don’t always have the luxury of time, or meaty soup bones, so this version comes together in no time with ground round for meat and canned broth and beans. If you have some homemade broth on hand, by all means use it, whether its made from chicken, beef or vegetarian. And experiment with the ingredients and make it your very own comfort food!