Go vegan (3) with pasta e fagioli
What excites me about cooking and food in general is the marriage of time, a little bit of care and well-sourced ingredients from humble origins that create something more than the sum of its parts. I love dishes that satisfy the taste buds and the soul simultaneously, the sort of food that brings hungry families together around the table on Sunday afternoon or even a busy weekday.
Pasta e fagioli (or pasta and beans, for those who don’t speak Italian) is a dish of peasant origins from the south of Italy. Rich, nutritious beans (preferably the beautifully speckled borlotti beans, but white cannellini work perfectly) are cooked with earthy vegetables, some kind of cured meat (such as pancetta or prosciutto), and small, tube-shaped pasta. We’re making a vegan version today, so it’s easy to leave out the meat: the pasta, beans, and the method of cooking are the stars of this recipe, anyway.
Start by heating 75ml of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot along with a good pinch of salt and sweat the vegetables until the onion is soft and translucent, but not browned. If you have dried porcini mushrooms, chop them finely and add them now. Add the garlic and cook for a minute until fragrant before adding the tomato puree. Cook until the mixture darkens and the flavours have deepened, then raise the heat to high and add the chopped tomatoes, beans, and a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary if you have them. Add 1 litre of water and bring everything to a rolling boil. Season generously with salt and pepper, then add the pasta.
Al dente pasta
The trick to cooking this dish is to find the right balance of water and pasta so that you are left with al dente pasta, soft beans, and a sauce that is creamy from the starch from the pasta. I like the consistency of a sauce, but a soupier version is also wonderful, so adjust the water as needed. The finished dish benefits a lot from being stirred frequently so that the starch from the pasta is released and brings everything together (in Italian, this process is called mantecatura and it’s also used when making a risotto).
When the pasta is cooked and you are happy with the consistency of the sauce, remove the pot from the heat and add 50ml of olive oil. Stir vigorously to emulsify the sauce and serve in large bowls with a crisp white wine.
Anastasios Sarampalis is a lecturer at the Psychology Department.