Thursday, April 30, 2009

Frugal comfort food

Winter has arrived, seemingly overnight, and it amazing how quickly my stomach’s fancy has turned to a big steaming bowl of pasta e fagioli, or pasta and beans (I think it sounds better in Italian, don’t you?).

Pasta e fagioli is a dish from the Cucina Povera (or Poor Kitchen) school of Italian cooking. Cucina Povera cooking takes the most basic of ingredients and wrings every last bit of flavour out of them. Pasta e fagioli is a dish famous in north-east Italy from where my parents hail. I grew up on this stuff. To me, this is the ultimate comfort food. It is light but bolstering at the same time, warming you up from the inside out. A big bowl of this, a chunk of hopefully homemade bread, and a bit of cheese and I'm done.

It is also super easy. Here is the recipe.

Pasta e fagioli

1 ½ cups dried borlotti beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 litres water or stock
1 tin tomatoes
2 handfuls of small soup pasta

Soak the beans in water overnight.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and soften the onion and garlic. Add the beans and water/stock, add salt and pepper to taste, bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. Add the tomatoes and simmer for another hour. (NB. I cooked this in my pressure cooker for 20 minutes).

You can leave the soup chunky if you like, or put all or some through a blender to make a smooth soup. Personally, I use a mouli because it’s quick and the soup retains a bit of texture.

Bring the soup to a simmer, add pasta to the soup. Stir frequently until the pasta is cooked (otherwise the pasta will sink and adhere to the bottom of the pan. Not good). This is good sprinkled with parmesan cheese, if you have some.

Like a lot of soups, this soup benefits from being made a day ahead.

Now, how cheap is this soup? By my reckoning, it would have cost me no more than $1.50. It fed four of us last night, with leftovers for lunch me for at least two days.

Incidentally, my kids love this soup too, despite calling it “jail soup”. My reply:“Prisoners would only dream of this type of food!”


Keltie said...

very excited to read about your pressure cooker...i've been admiring a Tefal one for 6mths and have decided to go for it! what size is yours? Am not sure whether to go for 6, 8 or 10 litres. any suggestions?

Paola said...

Keltie, eye off that pressure cooker no more! Go out and buy one! Honestly, after only a week I LOVE my pressure cooker. Whatever it costs you I'm convinced you will save over and over with savings in your energy costs. So far, I've used it every day. For a family of four, I bought an 8 litre pressure cooker which is plenty. It is large enough to make stock, taking a whole chicken.