Sunday, March 17, 2013

Meatless Monday: Ligurian Pasta and Beans

I selected this recipe because it is rather unusual. It's not often that you see potatoes, beans, and pasta combined in one dish. Three starchy things that have different textures making for a rustic, hearty dish. This heavy-on-the-carbs combination is popular in Liguria, where they serve pasta with potatoes and pesto. Liguria includes Genoa, home of pesto, as well as Cinque Terre, five lovely towns that hug the coast. It's known for delicious olive oil and a generous hand with many fresh herbs.

This dish also exemplifies much that is beautiful in Italian cuisine. Simple preparation and high quality ingredients make a flavorful dish. Don't substitute dried parsley or rosemary because you need the brightness of the fresh herbs. Though a small bunch of rosemary will run you about $3, don't forget that you can freeze most of it, ready for the next recipe that uses rosemary.

You'll need to plan ahead for this recipe because you must soak the beans before cooking them. You can shorten the soaking by using the quick soak method: bring the beans and water to a boil and boil for 3 minutes (4 minutes if you live at a higher altitude like I do). Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 1 hour. The beans will be ready for cooking.

Ligurian Pasta and Cannellini Beans
(serves 4-6, costs $6.50)

1 cup dry cannellini or Great Northern beans
¼ cup olive oil
1 large red onion (about 8 oz.), chopped
1 large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups vegetable broth
2 medium boiling potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or Red), peeled and diced
8 ounces lasagna noodles, broken into about 1" pieces
1 large clove garlic, minced
8 large sprigs fresh parsley, leaves only, chopped
1 5" sprig fresh rosemary, leaves stripped off the stem and chopped
1 pinch of dried marjoram, crushed
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 oz.)
1 teaspoon salt + more for salting pasta water
½ teaspoon black pepper

Soak the beans in 4 cups cold water for at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and crushed red pepper flakes. Saute, stirring, for 3 minutes until onions are translucent. Add the soaked beans and the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the beans are just tender. Add the potatoes and cook for another 15 minutes. At this point, the beans and potatoes should be completely cooked. Remove from the heat and set aside while you cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta pieces, stirring every now and then to keep them from sticking together. Cook for 10-12 minutes until the pasta is al dente - just tender. Drain the pasta and add to the beans. Stir in the garlic, parsley, rosemary, marjoram, cheese, salt, and pepper. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Check salt; depending on the saltiness of the broth, you may need more.

(Adapted from Fagioli by Judith Barrett, Rodale 2004.)

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