Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pasta e Fagioli

This is a hearty stew that is so de-lish yet is so inexpensive to make. Great dinner for the budget these days, eh? If you would like to make this vegan, just omit the sausage and use vegetable broth rather than chicken broth.

6 cups chicken broth
1 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound sausage (whichever type you like to eat-- Italian or smoked Kielbasa would be good)
1 small leek, top dark green end discarded, the remainder chopped small
1 14 ounce tin diced tomatoes (unseasoned) with juice
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped smallish
1 stalk celery, trimmed and chopped smallish
a dash or two (or six) of red chili pepper flakes (omit if you do not want any heat)
4 ounces dry pasta, very small in shape
a big handful of chopped parsley
a handful of chopped fresh basil

1) Pour the chicken broth into a large soup pot and add in the potato and half of the cannellini beans. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potato chunks are very tender, then puree the whole mess (best to use an immersion or stick blender, but transferring to a stand blender will work also-- if you haven't either of those, just mash away with a potato masher).

2) While the potato and bean mixture is simmering, cook the sausage, if you are using it. If you are using raw (squishy) sausage, squeeze it out of its casing and cook loose until no longer pink. If you are using a smoked, or partially cooked sausage (it will feel firmer), cut into small half moons and saute until cooked through. If you are going vegetarian, first of all-- congratulations, well done, you are a better soul than I-- secondly, skip this step.

3) Now, add everything including the cooked sausage (if using) and the remaining cannellini beans, but excluding the pasta and fresh chopped herbs into the soup pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. As soon as things are tender, add in the pasta, bring the stew up to a strong simmer and cook until the pasta is done, about 10 minutes once the stew is simmering. Stir it every once in a while.

4) Finally, stir in the parsley and basil and taste. Does it need salt? A bit of freshly cracked black pepper, perhaps? Carry on.

Serve with crunchy bread and a green salad. Pass the Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top of the stew.

Makes about 6 servings.

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