Thursday, October 26, 2006

alright, already!

much to my surprise -- since this isn't really a food blog in the way most food blogs are food blogs, you know? -- my inbox has seen fair traffic requesting the pasta e fagioli recipe from the other day. so, ok.

many people, such as my husband, think they don't like pasta e fagioli -- until they try this one, based on a recipe by the famous italian cooking expert anna del conte.

this is a northern italian version, based on olive oil and using radicchio. i assume you are using dried borlotti/cranberry/ cannellini/great northern beans, and possess both a food processor and a pressure cooker.

to quick-soak beans (who has time or forethought to soak them overnight? not any working woman i know!):

1 pound dried borlotti/cranberry/cannellini/great northern beans
7 cups water

combine these in your pressure cooker. bring to high pressure (about 5 mins.) and cook for 2 minutes. let pressure release naturally, about 10 mins.

instant soaked beans!

while the beans are sitting to release pressure, make the soffrito, or sauteed soup base:

1 med. onion
2 stalks leafy celery
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons fresh herbs (italian parsley, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme -- a mixture of whatever you've got around and like, or just use all parsley, hey make it the way you like it, it's your soup!) or more, as you like it

toss the veggies & herbs in the food processor and chop very finely with the chopping blade. put in a bowl until ready to use. any left-over herbage will go towards the soup garnish at the end.

8-12 oz. radicchio (the round chioggia kind, not the pointy treviso kind)

change processor blade to the shredder. shred the radicchio into long slices, not short stubby ones like coleslaw. if your machine can't do this, shred the thing with your biggest chef's knife. put shredded radicchio into the bowl with the rest of the soffrito -- unless you want to reserve some to garnish the top of the soup, in which case, put some aside for that purpose.

drain beans, discard water, wash pressure cooker: this process massively reduces any tummy issues from the beans for most people.

please note that in the pressure cooker, the different types of beans above cook at slightly different times, with the cranberry and borlotti taking the longest, up to 20 mins. the great northern can be done in 15 mins., which is why i personally tend to recommend the great northern.

cook beans:

the beans
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil

pressure cook for the time proper for your bean type (15-20 mins, depending). let the pressure release naturally (about 10 mins).

while the beans are cooking, fire up your biggest saute pan, and heat 3 tablespoons good olive oil. saute the soffrito with a big pinch of salt (try even 1/4 teaspoon) for about 7 mins. until soft.

but don't let the garlic burn! add more oil if you need it.

when the pressure has left the beans, take the lid off the cooker. following this method the beans should be beautiful and whole.

if not it doesn't matter, since we're going to puree 2/3s of them in the processor. so do that -- refit the processor with the chopping blade (or use an immersion blender!), ladle in beans and a little stock into the processor bowl, and puree to a creamy paste.

return the puree to the pressure cooker, stirring it in to make a very thick and creamy soup. add the finished soffrito -- be sure to scrape in everything from the saute pan for max flavor -- and stir well.

return soup to a simmer. add 3 or 4 tablespoons excellent oaky red wine vinegar or high-quality (25 year+) balsamic vinegar.

red wine vinegar is more authentic for this soup, but most people will prefer the taste of the balsamic. you will probably need to add another 2 cups water at this point, but remember this version of the soup is supposed to be very thick.

simmer gently for another 10 or 15 mins. stir often to prevent scorching, as the remaining whole beans and radicchio shreds will want to sit on the bottom and burn.

now the fagioli part is done. for best flavor, stop here and refrigerate the soup overnight; everyone knows bean soup is better the next day.

but if you don't have time for that, no problem, the soup will still be fantastic.

now let's move onto the pasta. you can use whole-wheat pasta here if you like for a full-bodied peasant-type flavor.

most recipes recommend 8 oz. ditalini, but I prefer tubettini, which is a personal quirk -- just get something smaller than the whole beans.

i find it's much easier to cook the pasta separately from the soup at this point -- less chance of scorching the radicchio. while you're waiting for the pasta water to boil, also boil an egg (some people boil the egg with the pasta!).

the egg forms part of the garnish later. cook pasta a minute or so less than al dente, reserving a cup or two of cooking water.

add the reserved pasta cooking water and pasta to soup. simmer for about 5 mins., and during this final simmer, grate about 1/3-1/2 cup best quality parmesan cheese.

now to finish soup! remove soup from heat, stir in cheese, set the lid on lightly, and let soup sit for 5 mins. while the soup is sitting, coarsely cube the hard-boiled egg.

taste the soup. the parmesan is pretty salty, but you may find you want up to 2 or even 3 teaspoons more salt, depending on your personal taste.

grind in as much fresh black pepper as you like too. now let's finish and garnish the soup!

ladle this thick soup into serving bowls, and decorate with a bit of the reserved shredded radicchio, some egg, a drizzle of olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a light dusting of parmesan, a sprig of parsley or the herb(s) or your choice, and more black pepper if desired.

in short, whatever you like. with a side green vegetable, this soup is a full meal.

it's a big recipe, about 5 or 6 qts., and it keeps for about 9 days. it also freezes very well (unlike coffee).

using this method, you can get a gorgeous cold-weather soup with an all-day-grandma-simmered-authentic taste and texture in just about 2 hours, most of which is waiting around for the pressure to release. this is key, as the non-pressure-cooker version takes 3 days (1 to soak beans overnight, 1 to let bean soup sit overnight, and serve day 3).

plus the only clean up is the pressure cooker, the saute pan, and the food processor bowl. this is super-key!

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posted by fortune | 7:58 PM | top | link to this | email this: | links to this post | | 3 comments

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