Marco Polo went to China. It was a very long way from Venice, and the sailors who were part of his expedition, sick of sea rations, craved homemade food. One of them, while on a shore leave, met a beautiful girl who was making noodles. History is not clear whether he had fallen in love with the girl or her noodles, but he persuaded her to let him have a taste – of the noodles, Beautiful People! He loved them so much that he brought a sample to Marco Polo who subsequently introduced them to Italy. The sailor’s name was – are you ready for this? – Signor Spaghetti (http://www.rd.com/food/fun/6-food-creation-myths-you-shouldnt-believe/).
The main problem with this load of baloney is that Marco Polo did not arrive in China by ship; he followed “The Great Silk Route” through Asia and befriended the great Mongolian ruler Kublai Khan in the process. Contrary to the pasta story, this one is documented. In reality, even though pasta did not originate in the Mediterranean (scuzi, amici!), but it didn’t float from China either. According to food historians, pasta was known to both Arabic and African tribes before it made its way to ancient Greece and ultimately to Rome where dry pasta became a part of soldiers’ ration (http://www.pasta-recipes-by-italians.com/history-of-pasta.html).
Combined with beans as a source of protein, with any vegetables at hand thrown in, pasta quickly became cucina povera – the food of the poor, cheap, hearty, and filling. It was so widespread that I was unable to discover origins of one of my favorite soups, Pasta e Fagioli, or Pasta Fagioli for short. It seems that in the South, fagioli borlotti, or cranberry beans are used, as well as lots or tomatoes or a heavy tomato sauce. My favorite is a Northern recipe, with cannellini beans and fresh diced tomatoes. It is also a vegetarian version, but feel free to use meat stock, if that’s your pleasure.
I follow the traditional Italian method of cooking beans and pasta separately. The beans are soaked overnight, then I throw them into the crock pot and let them cook to the point of disintegration. This soup has to be thick, almost like a stew.
Meanwhile, I have this adorable gluten free vegan pasta that my granddaughter found somewhere in downtown Boston where she goes to school and where she explores all kinds of funky stores. She is “like totally” on a health food track, and I am very happy about it! Any pasta will do for this soup, even leftover spaghetti broken into small pieces. This pasta is gluten free so it cooks very quickly. Remember, you want it under-cooked because it will continue cooking in the soup.
While the pasta is cooling its heels and the beans are still disintegrating in the crock pot, I quickly make a very light tomato sauce. Minced onions and garlic are sauteed in olive oil with grated carrots and diced fresh tomato until carrots are soft.
Once the beans are fully cooked, the pasta is ready, and the sauce is done, you assemble the soup and season it. I use pareve soup powder, cinnamon, salt and pepper, and a nice handful of fresh chopped parsley.
I couldn’t resist this one! And once you taste this soup, you will believe that the world is macaroni, and if it isn’t, it should be!
Instead of traditional Reggiano Parmesano grated on top, I just sprinkled some nutritional yeast into my bowl – delicious!
- 2 cups cooked cannellini beans (1 cup uncooked) or 1 15 oz can
- 2 cups any small pasta
- 1/4 medium onion, minced
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup grated carrots
- 1/2 cup diced tomato
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 heaping tablespoon pareve soup powder
- A pinch of cinnamon
- A large handful of fresh chopped parsley
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: a pinch of nutritional yeast
- Soak beans overnight. Drain water, place in crock pot, add water to 3 quarts, cook on high until extremely soft. If cooked stove top, stir frequently.
- Cook pasta according to instructions to under-cooked condition (less than al dente).
- Saute garlic, onion, carrots and tomato in olive oil until carrots are soft.
- When beans are ready, add pasta and sauce. Flavor and season with the rest of ingredients. Mix well.
- Serve hot, sprinkle nutritional yeast on top, if desired.