Pasta Fazool; Tweaked

Pasta Fazool (the Neapolitan prononciation of Pasta e fagioli) was verboten in my childhood home. It was my mom’s Depression era dish–the food she and her brother, mother, nonna and countless uncles and one aunt ate when there was nothing else in 1930s North End of Boston.

Despite all the weird-for-the-Midwest dishes we ate when I was little (rabbit, tripe, zucchini flowers, dandelion leaves, etc.), my mom never served pasta and beans together. I love it.

Of course, mine’s a lot different than my mom’s recollection of a watery soup flavored with a bit of meat and spices.

Most people know I can’t follow a recipe. I might do it once and then realize how much better it could have been if I’d only tweaked it a little bit (or maybe a lot). This is my version of pasta fazool that I made for my Dad’s 85th birthday.

At least, this is how I think I made it.

Pasta Fazool for Jack

  • 4 slices of good bacon (like from Bar 5 Meat & Poultry), roughly chopped
  • 1 “slab” of Pastures of Plenty thick-sliced ham with bone from Mississippi Market, diced (sorry I have no idea how much that is, maybe a pound)
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 ribs celery , chopped fine
  • 1/2 bulb of garlic, minced or smashed (~2 T)
  • ~ 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ~1/2 tablespoon dried basil
  • ~ 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 1 box Pomi tomatoes and all liquid (no BPA unlike canned tomatoes)
  • 1-2 pieces Parmesan cheese rind (available at most cheese shops and always at Whole Foods — just ask at the cheese counter–then stock up and store it sealed in the freezer)
  • 2 cans Eden Organic (no BPA) cannellini beans, drained and definitely rinsed
  • ~ 1 tablespoon Thai Fish Sauce (it’s anchovies, sugar and water)
  • 1-2 “ice cubes” of garden herbs*
  • 1-2 boxes of veggie broth (I like the low salt version from Pacifica) OR lamb broth**
  • ~ 3/4 cup Israeli couscous
  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Ground black pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish


In a heavy pot (a Dutch oven or one of those gorgeous Le Creuset pans) brown the bacon until crispy. Add the diced ham and the ham bone and brown for a few minutes. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened, stirring when you think about it for 5 minutes (or so). For a minute, stir in the garlic, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes then add in the tomatoes and be sure to loosen any browned bit off the bottom of the pot for flavor. Next, add in the drained and rinsed beans (its’s very important to clean them first), fish sauce, and the Parmesan rind; bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes.

I don’t like overcooked green food, so next I turn off the heat and add the frozen cubes of herbs and stir until they are melted and distributed throughout the soup. Then I stir in the broth (veggie or lamb because I hate anything chicken–sorry Julia Childs).

Finally, I pour the pot of soup into a slow cooker (aka a Crock Pot in the Midwest) and then add the Israeli couscous, which is a quick-cooking pearl-shaped pasta.

If I’m transporting the soup, I wrap the sealed slow cooker (it has clips that clamp down the lid) in towels to preserve the heat. If it’s for a party at home, I set the temperature to “low” and it’s ready in about 10 minutes. The Israeli couscous soaks up the broth pretty quickly, but not all of it, so it doesn’t become a lumpy hotdish.


Try to remember to remove the ham bone and Parmesan rind before serving and potentially scaring friends.

Garnish with Parmesan cheese and loads of fresh Parsley. 

Serve with New French Bakery take and bake baguettesplan on 1/2 baguette for each Tween or Teen and 1 skinny slice or two for everyone over 40 and any wine from the Loire Valley.

* Before the first hard frost, I gather all my garden herbs, throw them (washed) in the food processor with olive oil and freeze the pesto-like paste in ice cube trays for winter use. I do try to balance the proportions so it doesn’t come out too piney. The mix is heavy on thyme, basil, sorrel, cilantro and chives with some lavender, sage, and rosemary. It’s like a fresh-frozen herbes de Provence.

** I happened to buy a package of lamb neck bones from Bar 5 Meat & Poultry at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market, so I made a quick lamb stock by simmering them with bay leaves for a few hours. Lamb meat is really intense, so I rarely eat it. However, lamb broth adds a tremendous complexity to any soup. Cool and skim the fat off before using.

And no, the irony doesn’t escape me that I combined pork and Israeli couscous!

Start to finish, I can make this in 45 minutes, but that means I’m chopping madly and making a huge mess of my kitchen. Best to allow a little more time. Serves a very large family of 10-12

On the other hand, here’s a great version from Cook’s Illustrated:


Published March 1, 2003.  

Makes about 4 quarts, serving 8 to 10.


To develop a pasta and bean soup recipe with great flavor and proper texture in less than an hour, we cooked some bacon and pancetta and then cooked our vegetables in the rendered fat. We discovered other quick flavor boosters: Adding the tomatoes and beans together allowed them to absorb flavor from each other; a 60:40 ratio of chicken broth to water added richness without turning our pasta and bean soup into chicken soup; a Parmesan rind gave our soup depth; and a finish of parsley and minced anchovies lent a bright final note.

This soup does not hold well because the pasta absorbs the liquid, becomes mushy, and leaves the soup dry. The soup can, however, be made in two stages. Once the beans are simmered with the tomatoes, before the broth and water are added, the mixture can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 3 days. When ready to complete the soup, discard the Parmesan rind (otherwise it will become stringy), add the liquid, bring the soup to a boil, and proceed with the recipe.


  • 1tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • 3ounces pancetta or bacon, chopped fine
  • 1medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1medium rib celery , chopped fine (about 2/3 cup)
  • 4medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 heaping tablespoon)
  • 1teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3anchovy fillets , minced to paste (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with liquid
  • 1piece Parmesan cheese rind , about 5 inches by 2 inches
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans , drained and rinsed
  • 3 1/2cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • Salt
  • 8ounces orzo or other small pasta (ditalini, tubetini, conchigliette)
  • 1/4cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)


  1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and anchovies; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add cheese rind and beans; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, 2 1/2 cups water, and 1 teaspoon salt; increase heat to high and bring to boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (refer to package instructions to better estimate pasta cooking time).
  2. Discard cheese rind. Off heat, stir in 3 tablespoons parsley; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into individual bowls; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing grated Parmesan separately.