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Whether you call this soup Pasta Fagioli, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta Fazool, or Pasta Fasul – this hearty soup is absolutely delicious!
What is Pasta Fagioli?
The Italian term “pasta e fagioli” means “pasta and beans” in Italian. No matter how you spell it – this soup is pronounced “pasta fa-zool” – which may be why there are so many different spellings for this delicious soup.
And, there are just as many different variations of this soup – but the basic ingredients are beans and pasta. Pasta Fagioli originated as a ‘peasant dish’ – the kind of recipe made with inexpensive, readily-available ingredients that can feed a family on a budget.
Are Pasta Fagioli and Minestrone the same?
While somewhat similar in flavor and ingredients – the main difference is with the beans. Minestrone recipes can include beans as well, but in a Pasta Fagioli, some of the beans are pureed to thicken the soup. In Minestrone they are not.
One of the best Pasta Fagioli recipes around!
Our recipe today is adapted from The New England Soup Factory Cookbook – where a ham stock is made by cooking down a smoked pork shoulder. In addition to that flavorful, smoky broth, the cooked pork is cut into bite-size chunks, then added to the Pasta Fagioli along with the pasta, beans, tomatoes, and vegetables. It really is one of the best versions of this soup we’ve had.
Why you’ll love Pasta Fagioli
- The flavors of this soup are incredible thanks to a smoky-salty pork broth, a variety of vegetables, Parmesan cheese, seasonings, plus white beans and pasta.
- It’s a versatile recipe – and you can simplify it too. Skip the homemade ham broth and swap in a canned or boxed stock. Add different beans and pasta shapes. Change up the vegetables to suit your tastes.
- As written, this recipe will feed a crowd – or you can freeze the broth and vegetables for another meal at a later date.
Key Ingredients & Substitutions
- Stock – You’ll make a ham stock by cooking down a small smoked pork shoulder. You’ll also add the cooked meat to the finished soup as well. (For convenience, you could skip the homemade stock and just purchase vegetable or chicken stock. If you do this, you won’t add any meat to the soup.)
- White Navy Beans – You have two options: Buy canned navy beans for a quicker version of this soup. Or – soak one pound of dried beans overnight and cook in the soup 90 minutes to soften. Either option works well – just the cooking time will vary.
- Vegetables – We added yellow onion, celery, carrots, garlic, canned stewed tomatoes, and fresh baby spinach to our soup.
- Seasonings – A combination of bay leaves, balsamic vinegar, dry oregano, and fresh parsley add great flavors.
- White Wine – The recipe uses quite a bit of wine – so choose a good-quality white wine that you’d be happy to drink. We used a dry Chardonnay.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Parmesan Cheese
- Pasta – Ditalini is the most used pasta in this soup recipe, but any small pasta will work including elbows.
Special Tools Needed
- 10-quart Soup Pot – This will be used to make the stock, as well as to assemble the soup.
- Cutting board and knife
- Various measuring cups and spoons
- Large wooden spoon
- Large Strainer
- Spider Strainer
- Blender or Immersion Blender
- If using dry navy beans instead of canned, soak them overnight. Add the soaked beans after deglazing pan with wine in Step 5 below. (You will also need to cook the soup for an additional 90 minutes to soften the beans.)
- If using canned or boxed broth, skip steps 1-4 below. Buy 14 cups (3 ½ quarts) of vegetable or chicken stock.
How do I make Pasta Fagioli?
- Start cooking the stock by first bringing the smoked shoulder in water to a boil – then discard the water. This step removes excess salt from the finished stock.
- Place smoked shoulder back into pot with stock ingredients and five quarts of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to low and cook covered for 3 ½ hours.
- Remove meat to a platter and strain stock. Discard solids and reduce stock down to 14 cups of stock. This can be made a day in advance and refrigerated. Skim off any fat once cooled.
- Pick meat from cooked smoked shoulder, discard fat and gristle and cut into bite sized pieces. You should end up with about 1 ½ pounds or five cups of meat. Freeze the ham bone for other recipes.
- Make the soup by sautéing carrots, onion, celery and garlic in olive oil. Add wine to deglaze. Add stewed tomatoes and stock along with bay leaves, oregano and rinsed navy beans. Cook until vegetables are tender. (If using dry beans instead of canned, this step will take 90 minutes to cook to soften the beans.) Discard the bay leaves.
- Puree six cups of the soup and return the pureed mixture to the soup pot.
- Add balsamic vinegar, spinach, and cooked ham and simmer just long enough to wilt the spinach.
- Cook pasta, drain, rinse, and cool. (Note this step can be done while the stock is simmering.)
- Mix Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, cooked pasta, and more olive oil. Add this mixture to the pot just before serving, or add portions to individual servings and then ladle the hot soup on top. (Keeping the cheese, herbs, and pasta separate from the larger pot will ensure a fresher taste and will prevent the pasta from absorbing liquid and getting mushy.)
- Serve in bowls with additional Parmesan cheese grated over the top.
This recipe can easily be cut in half. Just note that a smoked shoulder usually comes in four+ pound cuts – so even if you do cut the recipe in half – you should still consider making a full amount of ham stock.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Can I make Pasta Fagioli ahead of time? Yes, you can make the ham stock and cook the pasta ahead of time. If you want to make the entire soup ahead of time, keep the cooked pasta separate from the soup pot and add to the serving bowls once ready to serve.
- How do I store leftovers? Store covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- How do I reheat leftovers? Heat in a saucepan or the microwave individual portions.
- Can I freeze? This soup can be frozen, however if you intend on making ahead and freezing, do not add the pasta to the soup. Instead, wait to cook the pasta until ready to serve – add pasta to the thawed and reheated soup.
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4 pounds bone-in smoked shoulder
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 medium carrots, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 large celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 cup of celery leaves (optional)
1 bay leaf
3 15.5-ounce cans white navy beans or one pound of dry navy beans
1 cup dry ditalini pasta, cooked according to box directions, cooled and set aside
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups yellow onion, diced
1 1/2 cups celery, diced
4 cups carrots, cut into bite sized pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
3 cups white wine
2 14.5-ounce cans stewed tomatoes, coarsely cut up
14 cups of stock from above (3 1/2 quarts)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dry oregano
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
8 ounces baby spinach
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/4 cup flay leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, as needed
- If using dry navy beans instead of canned, soak one pound of dry beans in water overnight and rinse. If using canned, drain and rinse under cold water. Either way, then enter the recipe at the same step.
- Place the smoked shoulder in a 10-quart pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and discard the water. This step will remove excess salt.
- Place the smoked shoulder back into the pot along with the other stock ingredients and five quarts of water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce to low and cook covered for 3 ½ hours.
- After 3 ½ hours, use a spider or strainer and remove smoke shoulder to a platter. Remove bone and freeze for other soup recipes. Discard fat, gristle and skin and cut the meat into bite sized pieces once cooled.
- Strain out the remaining solids then reduce the stock down to 14 cups (3 ½ quarts). This can be done at a full boil and should take 20-30 minutes to reduce. Skim off any fat. (The stock can be made a day in advance)
- Cook the pasta per box directions, drain and cool. Set aside.
- In a 10-quart soup pot, heat three tablespoons of the olive oil over medium high heat and add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic and saute eight minutes, stirring often.
- Add wine and cook to reduce liquid by half.
- Add the cut up stewed tomatoes, the stock, bay leaves, oregano as well as the navy beans.
- If using soaked dry navy beans, simmer the soup for 90 minutes or until the beans are tender. If using rinsed canned navy beans, simmer the soup for 20 minutes.
- Remove and discard the two bay leaves.
- Remove six cups of the soup, pulling from the bottom to get a lot of solids, and place in a bowl and puree with a stick blender or in a regular blender and puree until smooth. Add this pureed liquid back to the pot.
- Add balsamic vinegar, spinach and cooked cut up smoked shoulder and cook to wilt the spinach, about five minutes.
- Since we did not add any salt or pepper as the soup cooked, taste and add as needed now. We added a little cracked black pepper but did not add any additional salt, since the ham stock was salty enough.
- In a bowl, mix cooked pasta with grated Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Add this mixture just before you are ready to serve or add to each bowl and pour the hot soup over.
- Grate more Parmesan cheese over each portion.
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