One day in Venice, on the main street of the Cannaregio district, we went to this tiny hole in the wall cichetti bar for lunch. Cichetti are essentially the Venetian version of tapas, which you eat loudly at the loud, crowded bar, and the place reflected as much: it was about twelve by eight feet inside, and featured three tiny tables and a bar at which a few people were standing, hanging out with the waiter. I have no idea what the place was called. John thinks it was "Happiness". We sat down and ordered red wine and tortellini and pasta e fagioli.
Pasta e fagioli. This was perhaps the best food event to happen in our entire trip to Europe, and it wasn't even mine, it was John's! It was tragic. He got a wide, hot pasta bowl of pureed beans (fagioli) mixed with ditalini (very short tubular pasta), and a huge spoon so as to eat it in the most expedient manner. And that is exactly what happened. Expeditious. I got none! NONE. Well, ok, I got one tiny bite. It still remained tragic.
When we got home, I swung into action.
I had a few different ideas for this, based off the three variations in The Vegetarian Epicure I and II. I'd actually read over all of the recipes before, but hadn't made any of them, since each kept the beans in said dish whole. Beans with pasta sounded good, but whole beans? Ugh! Just the thought of them slipping and sliding through the pasta was enough to keep me away. I will eat mashed and beaten beans any day, however, so I combined that with the rest of the original recipe to come up with a perfect version. I also halved amounts so as to get something less than the enormous 6-8 servings promised in the books. So far we've had four, and there's still some left. Ah, twelve tons of food.
Pasta e fagioli
1 cup dried white beans
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 large yellow onion
2 sticks celery
2 half decent tomatoes
1/2 box tubular pasta
water or bean liquid
oregano, basil, salt, pepper, bay leaf
Start the day before you want to eat. Yes, I know it is tragic, but there it is. Take your beans, wash and sort, and soak them in double their volume in water. Leave them for several hours or overnight. When they are sufficiently soaked, stick them in a large saucepan with lid, add a couple cloves of crushed garlic, a bay leaf, and a good glug of olive oil, plus water to cover, and put them on to boil until tender. Depending on the age of your beans, this could take anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple hours. Yes. Well, this is why you start the day before. When they are tender, drain, reserving the water if you are industrious. Remove the bay leaf and mash the beans and garlic roughly with a fork. If you don't use the blender, you don't need to wash it. Set the beans aside.
In a large, heavy frying pan, warm several glugs of olive oil. Chop your onion, carrot, celery, and remaining garlic finely. Add them to the warm oil. Season with a little basil and slightly more oregano, plus salt and pepper. Stir everything to combine, turn heat to medium low, and try your best to ignore it for the next half hour. This mixture needs to cook slowly so the onion and etc gets sweet and soft, not brown and crispy. Go in the other room and read a book. You can stir occasionally, but that's it.
After a good 20 minutes, get in there with your tomatoes. Bring a small pot of water to the boil (I used the water for the pasta). While it's getting up there, cut two shallow crosses across the bottom of each tomato. Then drop them gently into the boiling water. Leave for about a minute, then fish them out and let cool. The tomato skin should have split, or strained a little at least along the cut you made. Grab a corner of the skin and peel it off. Keep doing it until each tomato is totally bare and fleshy. That's the secret of peeling tomatoes. Chop your skinned tomatoes and add them to the pan. Stir it a couple times, then leave it alone for another ten or fifteen minutes. You may want to turn the heat up a little at this point. I did. I am impatient.
This time, however, you can cook your pasta while the tomato reduces. Cook it, drain it, maybe give it a couple drops of olive oil so it doesn't stick.
When everything is done, mix the beans, pasta, and vegetables all together in one sufficiently large pot. I just used the frying pan, so as to avoid triple dishes. Add either some water or reserved industrious bean water, so as to get things to your preferred texture, and turn the heat up to medium if you haven't already. Correct salt and pepper if necessary, then let it all bubble together until hot and sufficiently amalgamated. I don't think you need more than ten minutes here. On the other hand, I was dying of hunger by this point. So.
Serve in big bowls with some sort of good grating cheese and plenty of pepper. Red wine is clearly an asset in this situation. So is decent bread. So is a nice nap location afterward. This is clearly heavy comfort food, and as such, highly soporific. Ghzxxhmmm.