Since the Governor has ordered us all to stay at home, and the Council isn’t holding committee meetings, we all have too much time on our hands, and too much stress for our own health. So I thought I’d pitch in by publishing some of my favorite comfort-food recipes for you to try at home. I plan to post one a day for as long as I can keep it up; if you have suggestions for things you’d like to see, please send them my way. I’m aiming for recipes that don’t require fancy equipment or hard-to-get ingredients, because I believe everyone can and should be able to make comfort food at home. I’ll also add notes at the end of the recipe with suggestions for how to customize it to your own taste, some relevant cooking pro tips, and anything to particularly pay attention to while you’re making (or eating) it.
First up: pasta e fagioli.
This pasta e fagioli recipe originates from a super-handy cookbook called Gentlemen, Start Your Ovens. But of course I’ve messed with it, because that’s what recipes are for.
I highly recommend doing all the food-prep up front: gathering and measuring the ingredients, chopping, etc. The cooking is fast and easy once you have everything ready to go.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion (white or yellow), chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 large celery stalk, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, with juice
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 can (15.5 oz) Great Northern beans, drained
- ½ pound pasta; If spaghetti or linguini, break into pieces 3-4 inches long
- 1 bag (about 5 oz) baby spinach leaves
In a soup pot over medium-high heat, add the butter and olive oil. When the butter is melted, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, salt, and pepper; sauté until the vegetables are soft but not brown (about 3-5 minutes).
Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with juice, ketchup, bay leaf, and beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the pasta and simmer for 10 minutes more, or until pasta is tender.
Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf. Adjust the seasonings to your taste. Add the spinach. As soon as it wilts, the soup is ready.
Notes and tips:
- You can add pretty much any kind of pasta to this. If you’re using long pasta such as spaghetti or linguine, break it in half before you add it. My favorite with this is whole wheat penne; the soup will get just thick enough to stick well to the penne. Pay attention to the instructions on the package so you know how long you need to cook the pasta.
- The spinach is added right at the end, after everything else is cooked and the stove is turned off. You are not trying to cook the spinach; just fold it into the soup, and it will wilt on its own (and substantially reduce in volume). You don’t have to add all the spinach at once; you can do it in batches.
- This is a great recipe to experiment with; try adding different seasonings, either up-front when you’re cooking the vegetables, or right at the end to adjust things. Some spices to try: curry powder, oregano, tarragon, cumin. Start small and work your way up.
- You can add chicken or sausage too! If you’re using pre-cooked sausage, add it when the pasta has about 5 minutes left to cook, so you’re heating it but not cooking it further. For the chicken, you could dice it up and add it when you add the pasta. Alternatively, you could pan-fry a chicken breast in 1 tablespoon of oil in the soup pot before you saute the vegetables (about 3-4 minutes per side on medium-high heat, enough to brown it but not cook it through), set it aside to cool, then dice it up and add it back in with the pasta. Browning the chicken breast in the pot first creates what chefs call a “fond,” a flavor base that will add extra richness to the dish — so don’t clean up the pot after you brown the chicken, just add the oil and butter and start cooking up those vegetables.
- “Great Northern” is a type of white beans, not a brand. Sometimes they are just called “white beans,” but you will have no problem finding them in your grocery store.
- I love this recipe because it’s almost all stuff I already have in my kitchen; as long as I keep a can of beans in my pantry, I can pretty much always throw this together in a pinch.