A bean soup with pasta in it (pasta e fagioli) is considered to be the Italianest dish of all, in that it is cooked all over Italy and not just in one or another Region specifically — it is a ‘unifying’ recipe for a country that boasts hundreds of varieties, distinguishing themselves through geographical dislocation. When meat was eaten mostly by the aristocracy or the very rich, beans were spoken of as ‘the meat of the poor’ and quite right too, on account of the beans’ rich protein and calory content (whose notorious gaseous side effects were deemed of little consequence) and cheap price and long-term storage capacity.
The recipe of this post hails from the Campagna region of Italy because it adds escarole to the dish and because the pasta in question is one neapolitanly called “caccavella” — a huge size of pasta, that acts like a ‘container’. I bought the pasta and the four little dishes that came with it in the same package in one of those café-restaurants that are so typical of the Italian motorways: I just couldn’t resist. It reminded me of when I was little and played with a doll’s house and played ‘in’ a Wendy house! The pasta in question, however, was the real deal … proper caccavelle, made in Gragnano.
Okay … on with the recipe.
I hadn’t had time to soak the dry beans overnight, and then cook them. I delved into my pantry (a big word for my small dry-food cupboard) and found my shop-bought-and-cooked beans … opened the jar, poured the beans into a colander, put the beans under running water for a minute and then set the beans aside, as in the photo above.
And about one minute after that, I added the escarole. I had the heat on quite high, and tried to combine all the ingredients as best I could. Last but not least: seasoning with salt and pepper (if you chilli, by all means add that too).
While all that was going on, I had the caccavelle boiling in salted water until they were well cooked (not over-cooked, no, but not too much ‘al dente’ either — very much a Goldilocks operation: the caccavelle had to be cooked just right!)
We drained the four caccavelle … and then placed each one in a little frying-pan that came with the pasta and so reminded me of childhood play at cooking. We then filled each caccavella with the beans and escarole sauce.
I apologise … once the little pans were out of the oven and onto the plates on the dinner table … we got ‘stuck in’ and no thought was given to taking a photo of a delightful rendition of pasta e fagioli. It was very good, as many a beginner’s-luck dish tends to be. Next time, however, I would add a tiny hint of tomato sauce. Don’t ask me why …