Friday, January 24, 2014

Pasta e Fagioli AKA Pasta Fazool

by Sheila Connolly
It was dark—dark in the morning when she had to get up; dark by four o’clock in the afternoon.  And it was raining, a steady soaking rain that wouldn’t let up. Every now and then it spit snow, just for the heck of it. It was cold, too, with that bone chilling dampness that trumped whatever the thermometer read.

She didn’t want to go out. She wanted to curl up in her oldest sweats, with a cup of hot tea and a good book, and maybe a purring cat on her lap to keep her company.

Translation: it was a lousy Saturday in January and I didn’t feel like putting on my outdoor clothes and going to the market (all of a mile away) to buy food, but it had been a week since I’d last shopped and supplies were getting low. So, what could I make with what I had on hand?

The potatoes had been used up, so that eliminated every quick and easy Irish dish. What else was lurking in that pantry? Onions, carrots, stocks, beans, pasta…aha, pasta fazool!

That name has always mystified me, so first I had to satisfy my curiosity: what did that term mean and why was I familiar with it? Turns out that it’s a corruption of “pasta e fagioli” which is Italian for “pasta and beans.”  It was made popular in a novelty song written in 1927 by two American songwriters (Van and Schenk), who in addition to the hearty peasant soup, apparently included references to Babe Ruth, John D. Rockefeller, Charles Lindbergh, Christopher Columbus and Benito Mussolini—something for everyone!). No, I was not around in 1927 to hear it.

But why did Dean Martin pop into my head? Aha! One of his signature songs was “That’s Amore,” which includes the immortal line, “When the stars make you drool/just like a pasta fazool, that’s amore.” (The better-known line is “when the moon hits your eye/like a big pizza pie.”)

Which, in a totally irrelevant aside, led me to ask Google why there was this persistent rumor that Dean Martin had once lived over the Chinese restaurant in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where I lived for 15 years (much, much later!). Turns out his first wife, Betty MacDonald, came from Swarthmore. One more mystery solved.

Anyway, I had all the ingredients for pasta fazool, so I was off to the races—and didn’t have to leave the house. Note: I started with Marcella Hazan’s recipe but soon strayed from it. Hey, it’s a simple peasant soup, not a soufflé—improvise!


Pasta e fagioli

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil
1-2 carrots (depending on size), chopped
1 14-ounce can Italian tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
1 cup white beans
3 cups beef broth
6 oz. small tubular pasta
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Two additional notes:
-- Most recipes call for some pork product. I was tired of ham, but I did have a half-roll of ground sausage, so I made tiny meatballs (I used a melon baller) and sauted them briefly so they’d hold together in the soup.

-- Beans: If you’re using dry beans, better to start well ahead of time to soak or pre-boil them, because once you start cooking this soup, they won’t really have time to soften thoroughly.  Or use canned beans—much faster!

Heat the oil in a stockpot and sauté the chopped onion until pale gold. Add the chopped carrot and sauté about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

Add the tomatoes with their juice, turn the heat down and continue to cook another 15 minutes or so.  

Add the meat, the broth and the beans and cook at a low simmer for another 30 minutes.  Scoop out a half-cup or so of the bean-vegetable mixture and puree it roughly (this thickens the soup just a bit) and return it to the pot. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. 

Raise the heat to a steady boil and add the pasta.  Cook until the pasta is al dente, not mushy. 

Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for ten minutes, to pull the flavors together (and let the pasta finish cooking). 
Just before serving, swirl in the grated cheese.  If this isn’t substantial enough for you (it’s more a stew than a soup), serve with a nice crusty bread, and maybe a nice glass of vino rosso. 

Mangia! It’s a nice hearty soup for a cold wet day.

Scandal in only ten days!

And in keeping with the Italian theme, Reunion with Death (no, I don't mean the soup will kill you! but it is Italian).




  1. You described that miserable weather perfectly. How well I know that feeling. Time to hit the pantry and the freezer. Soup is on the menu here today for sure! Brrrr. Making meatballs was inspired. Very clever!


  2. Looks so yummy! And not having to leave the house to go to the store is a bonus! I think that "pasta fazool" came about because of the way Italians from the south pronounce the dish. They tend to leave the ending off of words so mozzarella becomes mozzarell and ricotta becomes ricott (with a hard c that sounds more like a g.) I have no proof of this of course...this is just based on listening to my grandmother, who was from Naples, talk. My Italian friend who is from the Venice area has a very different accent.

  3. Ah, another warming bowl of goodness.
    Isn't it marvelous what you can create from things you have on hand?
    I'm intrigued that you didn't use any seasoning.

  4. Sheila, I love all the history behind this post. You really were looking for a way to stay away from writing, too, right? LOL I love to do research. "Another mystery solved." Fun.

    Daryl / Avery

  5. Pantry dishes are fun and take creative thinking--perfect for an author continually thinking up clever ways to kill her characters! Kudos to you, Sheila, for the ingenuity on this one. Down here in NYC, Marc and I are in this cold snap, too, and we're considering a nice roast turkey--that way the oven stays on for hours. Of course, we'll have to trudge out into the arctic blast to buy it, but the all-day warmth of the oven should make up for it.

    ~ Cleo

  6. This sounds delicious! I cook a soup like this, but didn't have a name for it.

  7. I loved the history as well as the recipe, Sheila. Thanks from all of us who don't want to go out.