Pasta e Fagioli ( Pastavazool)

We were able to go home for lunch when we were in Grade School. Brother Chris and I were usually treated to a nice hot bowl of Pastavazool while the other kids had sandwiches or Campbell's soups. We actually envied those kids because we had Pastavazool , which was warmed over from the previous evening meal , almost every day ...or it seemed that way. In the 1930's there was a depression and easy inexpensive meals were prepared by using inexpensive readily available ingredients. What could be cheaper than macaroni and beans with a few tomatoes, a little garlic , some olive oil and if lucky some grated cheese.
Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Day after day of pastavazool ,Chris, as the younger brother , felt he couldn't take it any longer and when presented with the dish after about the 5th day straight , cried and said he just wouldn't eat it. Of course, with nothing else available he gave in.
Leap ahead about 55 years. We are in New York City and decided to dine at a fairly nice restaurant in "Little Italy". You guessed it... Chris started with the first course.. Pasta e Fagioli. He thought it was pretty good but not as good as Ma's. After all she had lot's of experience trying to perfect the recipe so Chris wouldn't cry . The recipe was passed to all the daughters-in-law and along with Gloria's family recipe, an amalgam appears here. Also, the nearest published recipe appears in Romagnoli's Table.

Pasta e Fagioli

First you should make a battuto:
2 slices pancetta chopped ( save 2 slices for the soup )
1 small onion
1 medium garlic clove
1 celery stalk

The Soup.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices pancetta 1/4 x 3in , cut into 1/4 x 1/4 x 1 in strips.
1/4 teaspoon red pepper seeds
3 to 4 peeled plum tomatoes or 2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 quarts hot water. ( broths don't make it better, stick with the water )
1 teaspoon salt. ( careful here, the pancetta is salty )
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups small pasta. ( I like ditalini )
1 20 oz can shell beans ( cannelini or navy ) with the liquid in the can. ( No sugar listed in ingredients) or 2 15 oz cans.
Make the battuto ( paste ) by chopping the 2 slices of pancetta, onion garlic and celery until minced into a paste or in a food processor.( Food processor is best ) . It must look like paste.
Put the battuto and the pancetta strips in a big soup pot with the olive oil over medium heat.Add the red pepper. Saute until golden, then add the tomatoes or tomato paste and cook again for about 3 minutes or until the tomatoes have blended a bit and softened. Add the hot water , salt and beans ( include the liquid in the can ).
Get the water boiling to cook the pasta almost to al dente by package instructions
Once the water salt , beans and battuto are boiling , reduce the heat and cook until the beans are heated through. Then crush a few beans against the side of the pot , and continue cooking until it is well done. By this time the soup may be really thick so you may want to add a little more water. Taste for salt .
Add chopped parsley just before adding the cooked pasta.
Serve with a sprinkling of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese and , if preferred a sprinkle of ground black pepper.
Fresh Beans : In the summer, fresh beans are available and make a better soup. Fresh beans are the ones with the pink and white speckled pods. Fresh beans can cook right in the pot . If you use fresh beans use two quarts hot water.