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Pasta Fagioli with Prosciutto

Updated: Mar 17


a hand holds a bowl of the finished pasta


I typically am inspired to make a recipe because I have a specific ingredient lying around. A little leftover this, an opened bag of that, and in this case, a deli counter special find - the end of a prosciutto leg. My deli counter was selling this delicious hunk of meat (yum) for 3$ and I knew it would be the perfect flavour booster for beans (because pork and beans forever!). No, I did not HAVE to make beans from scratch in order to make pasta fagioli but I did and it was great and now I can use this opportunity to share with you the magical process of making beans from scratch. Buckle up.

 

There are a few rules when it comes to beans, and once you master this you have the heart of so many other dishes at your fingertips (pasta fagioli included). 

In this instance, I used just over 1 cup of dried white navy beans, soaked in water overnight. You want to make sure they’re fully submerged in the water, with lots of extra water since they will grow. In the morning, replace with fresh water, submerging the beans again, this time in a pot. The pot should have enough room for the beans to grow, plus everything else you’ll be adding. 

This is an opportunity to add any flavourful and leftover bibs and bobs from the fridge, but like a stock. Be mindful not to add anything too small (ex I don’t add black peppercorns here) because you need to fish these things out later.

 

Here is what I typically have:

-a few sprigs of a hearty herb like thyme, rosemary, or sage. All of these are earthy flavours that pair so well with beans

-a handful of whole garlic cloves, in the skin. You’ll be able to smash up the flesh when it’s done and it’s delightful

-¼ onion or chunk of leek 

-parm rind

-tbsp or so tomato paste or a whole tomato 

-a celery stalk with some leaves

-fat*

 

*Now, the fat might be the most important part. You should be able to see it in bubbles along the surface of the pot. This is the reason I always save the leftover oil in the pan when I roast chicken or sausage - it’s FULL of flavour and works perfectly here. You can of course just use olive oil here if you’re vegetarian. In this case, I didn’t add any because the prosciutto provided all of that as it cooked down. 


There is a lot of discourse around when to salt your beans, and truly in this case I didn’t have to add any at all (again - thanks prosciutto!). I typically salt around halfway through. Some people believe you should salt the soaking water overnight, some hold firm that you should only salt at the end, and some believe salt should be added right when the beans are added to the pot. I take a halfway stance on this one. No matter when you add it, salt is important. You will need lots.

 

All these ingredients are added at the same time and I let it go the whole time on medium low, so there is a low and consistent bubble. For the first hour or so, you’ll notice lots of foam appear on the surface of the pot- skim this off. It takes me a few hours like this before we get to the level of creamy that I’m looking for. Turn off the heat and let them continue to chill in the flavourful pot. Fish out the garlic cloves and smash the flesh. Return that to the pot. Remove the prosciutto chunk and chop up the meat.

 

For the sauce, start by sautéing 1 small diced onion, 1-2 diced celery stalks, and 1-2 small diced carrots in olive oil over medium heat in a wide pan with high sides (this pan will have to hold the whole lot when you’re done). Adding a rosemary sprig would be great here. Salt is essential at this step because it draws out the water from the veggies. When it’s all soft, throw in 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped. Sautee that for about a minute before adding 1 tbsp tomato paste. Cook that out until you achieve a dark brick red colour. 


I added a ½ a small can of tomatoes here, specifically, Mutti tomato polpa, which is like tomato passata, which is like strained pureed tomatoes. I wanted the flavour and colour of tomato, but didn’t want pasta and beans IN tomato sauce. You see the difference here? In the end, I should have added the whole can.  


I let the raw tomato cook out for about 10 minutes before adding lots of of the beans (but I still had some leftover) and some of the bean broth (which of course is infused with delicious pork by now). Smash some of the beans with the back of the spoon to achieve a rich and creamy sauce. Return the chopped meat to the sauce. Season to taste. 


Traditionally the pasta is cooked in the same pot as the sauce for this dish but I did it separately. You need a small pasta, preferably one with a scoop like shape to hold onto the starchy sauce. Undercook it by a minute or 2 and add it to the sauce, with some pasta water. Letting pasta cook in the sauce for the last minute is a great way to bring it all together, and create one cohesive dish, not pasta + sauce as two very separate components. 

 

If you've boiled anything in water and you've made tomato sauce, you can make this dish and you can make it well. I believe in you! And I believe in beans.


-olivia

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