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Bean and Pasta Soup (Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli)

"Pasta fajool" is mother's milk to my New Jersey son-in-law. Make it a day or two ahead to let flavors intensify. Add pasta when reheating, so it doesn't soak up too much broth.

2 cups dried cranberry or navy beans, or 3 14-ounce cans
4 quarts cold water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
4 large Idaho baking potatoes, peeled
3 to 4 sprigs rosemary
3 bay leaves
10 leaves fresh sage
1 1/2 teaspoons pepperoncino (crushed red pepper)
1 can peeled Italian plum tomatoes
1 ham hock
1 1/2 cups ditalini pasta (tiny tubes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Soak the beans, covered by at least 4 inches of water, overnight. Drain beans and transfer them to a deep, heavy 4- to 5-quart kettle. Place olive oil, onions, carrots, celery, garlic and parsley in a large heavy skillet. Cook on low, covered, for 20 minutes, then remove cover, raise heat slightly and cook till slightly browned, 10 minutes more. Puree vegetable mixture and add with tomatoes to pot. Add the water, potatoes, rosemary, bay leaves, sage and pepperoncino and bring to a boil over high heat.

Adjust to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, till potatoes are cooked. Meanwhile, as soon as the potatoes are cooked, transfer them to a bowl and mash roughly. Return to pot. Cook on low-medium till beans are tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Puree 3 to 4 cups of beans; return to pot. Remove ham hock. Cut any meat off it and dice. Stir in the pasta and cook, stirring often, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil. Pass grated cheese. Serves 10 to 12.

Thursday, February 15, 2001

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