You know it as Pasta e Fagioli in Italian and Pasta and Beans in English, but it was the Neapolitan version of the name of this dish, Pasta Fasule, that morphed into America’s beloved Pasta Fazool, Pastafazool and Pastafazoola.
Economical but filling, it was popular among Italian and Neapolitan immigrants. A dish that once only graced working class tables eventually found its way onto the menus of such prestigious restaurants like Olive Garden.
Okay, so that’s not all that prestigious but…
So beloved was this dish or perhaps its name that Cab Calloway rhymed it with Talullah, Gus Van & Joe Schneck wrote the song Pastafazoola, and who could forget the immortal words of Dean Martin, “When the stars make you drool Joost-a like pasta fazool – That’s Amore!”
And Pasta Fasule – well that is just pure love on a plate. One of those dishes I crave like chicken pot pie, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.
Another recipe out of the pages of Cucina Povera this peasant dish has as many variations as there are regions, provinces, cooks, and ingredients. And while you’re likely to find Pasta Fagioli all over Italy, more than likely, you’ll only find this version in Napoli.
Look up Pasta e Fagioli in a Neapolitan cookbook and you might find it under pasta dishes. Then again, you might find it under soups. Actually, this hardy, stick to your ribs dish teeters in the middle reaching a consistency that dare I say, although not baked, is more akin to a casserole.
And it is this thick, creamy consistency that sets it apart from all others, achieved only by cooking the pasta in the “soup” - the bean and vegetable mixture that is sometimes flavored with a bit of pancetta. This ensures that all of the starchiness from cooking the pasta is retained. Combine that with the starchiness of the beans and it makes for one incredibly comforting dish.
And for a Pasta e Fagioli con le Cozze, one need only add some mussels and, this is very important, the liquid they cooked in.
500 Grams Cannellini Beans dried or canned
500 Grams Mussels
500 Grams Pasta Mista
100 Grams Pancetta Coppata
2 Celery Stalks
6 Cherry Tomatoes
1 Whole Clove Garlic
If using dried beans, soak them overnight in a pot of cold water
Drain the beans and recover them with cold water
Cook the beans over medium heat about 1 1/2 hours until they are very soft adding water as needed (do not drain)
While the beans are cooking:
Clean and debeard the mussels
Finely dice the celery
Halve the tomatoes
Chop the parsley
Dice the pancetta
Generously coat the bottom of a large sauce pan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat
Add a whole peeled clove of garlic and the pancetta and saute until the pancetta is cooked
Add the tomatoes, celery, parsley and salt
Saute the mussels in a pot with a little water until the shells open
Deshell the mussels and reserve the liquid
Bring the tomato and pancetta mixture to temperature over medium heat
Using a slotted spoon, add the beans to the tomato and pancetta mixture
Stir in about 1 glass of the bean liquid and the reserved liquid from the mussels
Add salt to taste
Stir in the pasta and cook over high heat
Continue adding water a bit at a time to ensure there is enough liquid to cook the pasta and to achieve a consistency that is to your taste
A native Neapolitan, Giuseppe Topo is a hairstylist and one of the owners of Noi, Naples only English-speaking salon. A passionate cook, when he’s not styling hair Giuseppe can be found in the kitchen cooking up one of his favorite Neapolitan dishes.
Find all of his great recipes at Cooking with Giuseppe!