When I was growing up, my mother made pasta e fagioli with broad cannellini beans in a rich tomato gravy or ragu’ as we used to call it. The pasta was usually a thick spaghetti or rigatoni and the dish was heavy, but delicious. I thought that’s how everybody ate pasta e fagioli. Later in life I learned there are as many versions of pasta and fagioli as there are varieties of beans – maybe more.
For example, my friend Alessandra who’s originally from Padua, makes it the way it’s served in that Northern Italian city – almost a beige puree with no tomato at all – and just a few bits of pasta and beans peeking through the creamy soup-like dish. I’ve eaten it that way at her home and in Padua and I love that version too.
Now that summer grilling season is here, and really good tomatoes are coming to market, I’m offering you another version with grilled tomatoes and small white beans. I actually prefer larger cannellini beans, but these small white Navy beans are what I had on hand. It’s a snap to put together in under a half hour and you’ve got a nutritious, delicious vegetarian meal with all the important food groups – vegetables, carbs and protein.
Start by spreading out tomatoes on a baking sheet, adding some thick slices of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, plus some salt, pepper and fresh herbs (I used fresh oregano from my garden, but you could use dried if that’s all you have. I also used fresh grape tomatoes that had a wonderful sweetness to them, but you could try cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, or even regular small salad tomatoes.)
Put the cookie sheet on the grill and keep a close watch on the tomatoes. They only take a few minutes to cook and will easily burn if you leave them for too long. Stir them once with a spatula.
Drain and rinse a small can of your favorite beans – cannellini, small white beans or even chickpeas, and toss them in a bowl with the tomatoes and cooked pasta. Add more seasoning (salt, pepper, red pepper flakes) and a drizzle of olive oil if it needs more.
Finish off with fresh basil. I’ve got both the vibrant green and the dark purple variety outside my door and the aroma is intoxicating at this time of year before the stems get woody.
I minced a bit to toss into the pasta just before serving, and also garnished the dish with a few sprigs of the colorful leaves. Sprinkle a little freshly grated parmesan over the pasta and sit down to a healthy, flavorful and quick-to-prepare meal.
Pasta E Fagioli
Farfalle with Grilled Tomatoes and Beans
serves two to three people
1/3 to 1/2 pound farfalle pasta
2 cups grape tomatoes
a drizzle of olive oil over the tomatoes (maybe 1/4 cup total)
4 garlic cloves, cut into large pieces
several sprigs of fresh oregano (or a sprinkling of dried oregano)
small can (13 oz.) of white beans
red hot pepper flakes, optional
fresh basil, minced - and more whole sprigs to garnish
parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top
Place the tomatoes on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Cut pieces of garlic and sprigs of oregano and place in cookie sheet. Add salt, pepper and toss everything together. Place pan over grill grates and watch carefully to make sure tomatoes don’t burn. Use a spatula to turn them once or twice. They should take no longer than five minutes to cook. Remove the cooked tomatoes to a pasta serving bowl.
Meanwhile, boil the pasta and drain. Drain a small can of white beans (cannellini, navy beans or chick peas). I used only about 2/3 of the can. Add the drained beans to the tomatoes in the pasta bowl, then add the red pepper flakes if desired, more black pepper and the drained pasta. Toss everything together and add more olive oil if needed (I didn’t need to). Toss in the minced basil and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese.