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Pasta e Fagioli


This is a slightly nontraditional version of the classic Italian soup--just as good but more visually resplendent. Serve hot as an i primi to 6.

Sharon from Live Oak, California, shares a story:
My husband and I decided to dine at a little Italian restaurant in Falmouth, Maine, that had been recommended. Claudio saw pasta fagioli (fasul) on the menu and ordered it. When it came, he noticed that there were no beans. He asked the server and she said they made the soup without beans. He was about to say something when one of four Italian women at a nearby table loudly called the server over and complained about the lack of beans in the soup. The server called the owner who came out and listened to the complaint. He hit his forehead with the palm of his hand, turned on his heel and rushed to the kitchen. We heard him yell, "hey guys, you forgot the beans!" A couple of months later we again dined at this restaurant and Claudio order the pasta fagioli. Again it came minus the beans. He called the server over and asked about the absent beans. She said she would check with the cook. He then asked her if she knew what pasta fagioli meant. "Oh yes", she replied, "that's the name of some guy in Italy".
Garnish: 1 bunch green onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal; olive oil; parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, fry the onions, carrots, and peppers in the oil over medium heat--until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the ham, basil or pesto, garlic, oregano, and mint. Stir for a few minutes, then add the drained tomatoes (reserving juice). Cook at a fairly high heat, stirring, until the mixture is a thick sauce, crushing the tomatoes with the spoon as they cook. This always takes longer than you think--as much as 10 minutes.

Add the reserved tomato juice, stock, and kidney beans, with or without their sauce, your choice). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. At this point, you can refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

When ready to serve, degrease the soup and return it to a boil. Add the pasta and boil gently until it is al dente--about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the mushrooms, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Then stir in the shredded basil or parsley, ladle into bowls, garnish with the green onions and a drizzle of olive oil. Pass the parmesan separately.