As a child of the ‘90s growing up in suburban Orlando, I went to chain restaurants with my family all the time. Perkins after church. Outback Steakhouse on a Friday night. Olive Garden on a weekend afternoon.
The Italian spot was a particular fave, their soup-and-salad combo a top contender for most ordered meal of my youth. Never did iceberg lettuce, a couple tomatoes and that one odd pepperoncini taste so good. And the soup! So much variety! Endless refills! (Sorry, but I was never really a fan of those pale, lifeless breadsticks.)
Pasta e fagioli was my go-to soup order. Full of beef and beans and vegetables, the tomato-based soup is my kind of hearty meal. I realized only recently that I had never made the soup myself.
I have to be in the mood to craft a good soup at home. Soups are deceptively labor-intensive. To get any flavor at all out of the broth-based recipes, you typically need more ingredients than you think. And you need to cook them in a way that builds layers of goodness.
“Fagioli” means beans in Italian, so we know this is going to contain pasta and beans. The traditional pasta for this kind of soup is ditalini, tiny tube shapes that are easy to find at grocery stores. For the beans, I went with a mixture of red kidney and white Great Northern, which is also pretty traditional.
Meat is not a must — this would make a fine vegan dish — but I wanted to up the hearty factor, so I added ground beef. The base is a pretty standard soup mix of onion, carrots and celery (also known by its fancier name: mirepoix). This part is crucial; it’s what builds the flavorful base your soup depends on.
A couple of dried herbs round this recipe out, and really emphasize that Italian soup essence. This is a pretty hands-off soup, and it can be made in one pot. Some recipes call for cooking the pasta separately, then adding it, but I just added it to the simmering soup and the result was just fine.
Definitely serve with some sort of crusty bread and Parmesan cheese on the side — bonus points if you can get someone to freshly grate it into your bowl.
Pasta e Fagioli Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium)
1 cup diced celery (about 3 stalks)
3 cloves garlic, minced
16 ounces tomato sauce (I use plain tomato sauce from the can)
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry ditalini pasta
1 (15-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
Shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, crumble in ground beef and cook, stirring occasionally until cooked through.
Drain fat from beef then transfer beef to a plate, set aside. Heat remaining olive oil in same pot.
Add onions, carrots and celery and saute over medium-high heat until tender about 6 minutes. Add garlic and saute 1 minute longer.
Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, water, canned tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme and cooked beef then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low, cover with lid and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until veggies are softer, about 15 minutes.
Add ditalini pasta and stir well, then cook for 10 minutes until pasta is tender.
Add beans and stir well. Thin with a little more broth or water if desired. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so (you can go longer if you want), then serve warm with cheese.
Source: Adapted from cookingclassy.com