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Kitchen Mailbox: Beyond the pasta and beans, Pasta e Fagioli has many variations

Thursday, March 22, 2001

By Arlene Burnett, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Ask five cooks to make pasta e fagioli (PAH-stah EH FAH-J'YOH-lee) and you'll get five versions. Pasta e fagioli (American translation: pasta and beans) is like any other ethnic dish; there are as many recipes as there are Italian cooks. Some recipes call for chicken broth, while others call for beef broth and a soup bone. There is meatless pasta e fagioli, and there are recipes that contain ground beef. But every pasta e fagioli recipe calls for pasta and beans (either navy or cannellini beans), tomatoes, garlic, oregano or basil and cheese. And when these ingredients are combined, this simple dish turns into a meal fit for a king. We served our pasta e fagioli with a tossed salad and Italian bread.

 
 
Cooking term
of the week

Simmer -- To cook in a liquid just below boiling point. Simmering will cause tiny bubbles to slowly form, then collapse below the surface.

   
 

Our first recipe calls for parsley: There are several types, the most common being curly parsley and Italian parsley. Curly parsley has small, curly, bright green leaves and a somewhat tangy flavor. The Italian parsley or flat-leaf parsley has darker green leaves with a stronger flavor -- the two are interchangeable. Dried parsley also is available; look for it in the spice section. But that's not the case with cilantro, an ingredient in our second recipe. Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, looks very similar to parsley but has a deeper green color, with a sharp and tangy flavor. It's used mostly in Asian, Mexican and South American dishes. You'll find fresh parsley and cilantro in the produce section.

To store parsley: wash, wrap in paper towels and place in a plastic bag and refrigerate -- parsley will keep up to one week. Same goes for cilantro, though you can skip the paper towels.

Ron from Oakdale requested a recipe for pasta e fagioli. Here are two delicious versions.

Gilda Lupes of Brighton Heights sent us this meatless pasta e fagioli -- perfect for the Lenten season.

Pasta e Fagioli

4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
16-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped, or 2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
15-ounce can cannellini beans (rinsed and drained)
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
Grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Heat 3 teaspoons olive oil in heavy skillet, over medium heat; add garlic and saute until lightly brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes; cook about 5 minutes. Add parsley, basil, oregano -- simmer until tomatoes soften; stir now and then to break up tomatoes, about 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. Add beans and cook until heated through. Place pasta in bowl, stir pasta with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, add sauce and toss well. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Note: 1 carrot or 1 stalk celery, chopped, may be added, raw. If you prefer this dish with more liquid, don't drain the tomatoes and cook an extra 10 minutes or so.

Makes about 2 to 4 servings.

After tasting the Olive Garden's pasta e fagioli, Margaret Bennett of Newell, W.Va., created her own version. Margaret told us: "This recipe includes all the ingredients [the Olive Garden has] in their pasta e fagioli."

Pasta e Fagioli

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground round
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup onions, chopped

Saute the beef, celery, garlic, carrots and onions in the olive oil until tender, see note. Add:

14 1/2-ounce can whole tomatoes, broken up
2 cups beef broth (14 1/2-ounce can)

Cook for 15 minutes, then add:

1/2 cup uncooked ditalini
14 1/4-ounce navy or cannellni beans
14 1/2-ounce can kidney beans

Season to taste with salt, pepper, basil, oregano and cilantro.

Note: We drained the meat before proceeding to the next step and used 1 teaspoon basil, 1/2 teaspoon oregano and 1/2 teaspoon cilantro.

Requests

Another McIntyre's Bakery request: Lynn A. McKnight of Asburn, Va., would love to have the recipe for the bakery's spice gems cookies.

Jean Cubbage of Swissvale is looking for a "really good recipe" for pizzelles. Jean writes: "I have a cookie maker and a recipe included, but I've tasted better."

Mary Lou Calcaterra of Lincoln Place writes: "I'm very interested in locating a recipe for an Italian dessert which is described as a deep-fried cake-like confection stuffed with rum, chocolate, chestnuts and cinnamon."

Susan Masur of Carrick: "I have been trying for years to find the cookie recipe from a television show with Patrice King Brown called "Hello Pittsburgh." The cookie was called Napoleon. It was a three-layer, no-bake bar cookie with a graham cracker chocolate crust. The filling consisted of powdered sugar, coconut, French vanilla pudding and maybe butter or milk. Someone either borrowed the recipe or I lost it. I cannot remember the remaining ingredients or the proportions. Hopefully one of your readers copied down the recipe as I did, or maybe Ms. Brown has it. By the way, If I'm not mistaken, Jon Burnett co-hosted. Any relation?" (No relation.)

Here's a request from Vivian Gates of West Mifflin: "Around 1975, what I believe was the Roto section of the Sunday [Pittsburgh] Press printed a recipe called Lincoln's Favorite Gingerbread Cake (made with chocolate). The cake was topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings." Does anyone remember this cake?

Jeanne Jorkasky of Dunbar, Pa., is looking for a recipe for an Easter lamb cake made in a mold pan. This recipe appeared in The Pittsburgh Press about 20-25 years ago. Jeanne said, "My mother always made this cake but lost the recipe. Please help us to find it." If anyone has the recipe send it in soon -- Easter is around the corner.


If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222, or e-mail to aburnett@post-gazette.com. Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number on all correspondence. All recipes are kitchen-tested by the Post-Gazette.



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