SOMERSET HILLS, NJ - If ever there was a day for pasta e fagioli, (pronounced "pasta fa-zool") it would be today. Buried in two-plus feet of snow and whipped by twenty-five mile per hour winds, both of which conspired to cause the obliteration of all weekend plans, we need a classic dish that warms our core as we begin to think about plowing and shoveling out.
Pasta e fagioli is what my wife's Uncle Michael calls "poor people's food". It is full of protein and carbs. (I'm sorry, but kale just doesn't suffice today) The mistake that some eateries make is to complicate this dish. I suppose that they want to make it fancy to justify overcharging you for the privilege of eating it. That is why I never eat pasta e fagioli in a restaurant. The key is to keep it simple.
You will need a large frying pan and a pot of water to boil, 6-8 fresh basil leaves, two cloves of fresh garlic, one 15.5 ounce can of small white beans, one small can of tomato sauce and approximately 10 ounces of pasta. As for the pasta, use your favorite, but I strongly recommend mini penne because it is bite size and it holds the flavor well.
Here's the simple process:
1. Start the water on one eye of the stove in preparation for cooking the pasta. Rinse and drain the small white beans. I use the canned small white beans, making sure that all of the preservatives are rinsed off. Making beans from the dry beans is not necessary. Indeed, in this case, taking hours to make beans from dry would constitute "fake hustle."
2. Wet the surface of the frying pan with olive oil. If you feel like you need to measure, use two tablespoons. Do NOT, and I repeat do not, use extra virgin olive oil. That would change the flavor. Heat the oil on medium heat.
3. Dice the garlic and chop the basil leaves. Saute them in the heated oil.
4. While the basil and garlic are in the hot oil, cook the pasta.
5. As the basil and garlic soften, add the rinsed beans. Stir thoroughly so that the oil, basil and garlic spread their flavor througout the beans. Add the tomato sauce to the beans and stir throroughly.
6. Add a pinch of sugar to the sauce and turn off the heat under the frying pan.
7. Here's the tricky part. Drain the pasta but don't drain it all the way. Leave a little of the hot water in the bottom of the pan.
8. Add the sauce and beans mixture to the pasta and water mixture.
9. Salt to taste. My Neopolitan mother-in-law was sparing with the salt, so this recipe doesn't call for much more than a teaspoon of salt.
10. Serve the pasta e fagioli in a soup bowl with freshly ground pepper.
This recipe makes about six servings. Don't plan on any leftovers. Once you have this recipe down, this should take the cook twenty minutes or less. Enjoy it while it's hot. This should give you the energy to shovel or plow out of the snow, or to watch old movies or enjoy a book on this, the ultimate snow day of 2016.