Christmas is coming, and even though this year will be completely different from what it has been in the previous years, there are constants that do not change.
There are the festive days, the ones marked in red on the calendar. This is when lunches and dinners stretch to blur into a continuum, even in the stark intimacy of a family.
Then, there are the other days, the ordinary ones. These are the days when you often go back to work. It could be in your office, or even in that corner of your house with a desk and a comfortable chair that you reorganized in the past months to grant you focus and to create a sense of continuity with the pre-pandemic days.
In our case, these are the days when we review everything we have done during the year. We jot down budgets and programs, expectations, bets, leaps of faith in the dark. I used to call them dreams, but nowadays I prefer to give them another name: projects. Alongside the vague idea of something I would like to achieve, I add numbers, quantities, hours of commitment, skills and collaborations.
If during the festive days the menu requires more work, with appetizers, desserts and roasts that spread the comforting smell of traditional meals around the house, on the other days I aim for simplicity.
They are still common days, but they are close and surrounded by the red festive days on the calendar, and therefore they require extra care, as if to celebrate the ordinary, something that this year required an unprecedented effort.
While we work at the kitchen table, the one with the yellow marble that has been passed down from generation to generation until it ended up here, I put a pot of beans on the stove. The night before, while I was turning off the Christmas lights before going to bed, I remembered to soak the beans in a bowl of cold water. Now I just have to cook them. Nothing beats the creaminess and full flavour of beans baked in a wood-fired oven, after the pizza and the bread, but these days I’ve come to appreciate the warmth of a pot of beans simmering on the stove as life flows past.
When the beans are ready, while our reasoning and budgeting go on, I move next to the stove and put on some pasta e fagioli, the Italian bean and pasta soup, one of those dishes that best represent the idea of the tradition that hugs you, especially on the coldest, hardest and most demanding days, just like those common days squeezed in between festive days.
Bean and pasta soup
Recipe developed in collaboration with Pastificio Liguori.
Pastificio Liguori is one of the oldest in Italy: its origins date back to 1795. To make pasta, they use the best durum wheat from southern Italy and the uncontaminated water of the Monti Lattari Regional Park, a spring water whose chemical and physical characteristics contribute to the unique flavour of Liguori pasta. Following the attention paid to the raw materials, Liguori pasta is produced in the traditional way: bronze die cut, slow dried at low temperature.
They also have a PGI certification, given by the production in the Gragnano area, a unique territory for its climatic conditions, which guarantees a superior quality product. For today’s recipe I have chosen a versatile format, Ditali Rigati n.83, perfect for thicker soups as our pasta and bean soup.
Pasta and beans, pasta and chickpeas, pasta and lentils: the Italian cucina povera has always had a particular focus on those well-balanced, filling one-pot dishes made with simple, pantry ingredients that, when put together, give more than the sum of their parts.
Of the many pasta and pulse dishes in the Italian culinary tradition, something that unites the whole peninsula, from North to South, pasta e fagioli, the comforting bean and pasta soup, is perhaps my favourite.
It is as basic in its preparation and ingredient list as it is rich and complex in its taste. A classic battuto, made of minced carrots, celery and onion, to begin, often enriched with a few pieces of pancetta – or even leftover ham rind to disguise the poverty of the dish -, then cannellini beans, or a local variety such as zolfini, a good pasta and a spoonful of tomato paste to give flavour and colour. Finish with a drizzle of raw extra virgin olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper.
Bean and pasta soup
- ½ carrot
- ½ celery stalk
- ½ white onion
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 50 g (1 3/4 oz) pancetta
- 700 g (4 cups) cooked cannellini beans
- 600 ml (2 1/2 cups) bean cooking water
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 200 g (7 oz) short pasta, such as Ditali rigati Pastificio Liguori
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Mince carrot, celery and onion and add them into a thick bottomed saucepan with the extra virgin olive oil and the finely chopped pancetta.
- Sauté for five minutes over a low heat until the vegetables are soft.
- Pour in the cannellini beans and their cooking water and add a tablespoon of tomato paste. Salt to taste.
- Bring to the boil over medium heat, then add the pasta. Cook according to the packaging instructions, stirring occasionally.
- As soon as the pasta is cooked, remove from the heat: the beans will make the soup creamy without the need of adding cheese. Serve the bean and pasta soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a a few turns of freshly ground black pepper.
More comfort soups for cold days
- Pasta e patate. As befits the traditional Italian peasant cooking, few ingredients are used in an inventive way to produce a rich taste and a creamy texture, made even more enticing by the presence of potatoes and pasta with cubes of chewy crusts of Parmesan. A hint of freshly ground black pepper or a pinch of crushed red hot chilly pepper will add the right amount of fire to warm you up, from inside out.
- Chickpea and maltagliati soup. It is a filling and cheap soup, an Autumn main dish with a special fresh pasta to give an unexpected twist. Chickpeas are simmered slowly for three hours with a generous battuto.
- Potato, porcini and chestnut soup. Potatoes and mushrooms cook on low heat for about an hour, until the soup is creamy. You crumble some pre cooked chestnuts into the soup when it is almost ready to give it even more sweetness and creaminess. Keep a few chestnuts aside, if you manage not to eat them all, and top the soup with chestnuts, parsley and a drizzle of good olive oil before serving it to your friends.