This pasta e fagioli soup recipe is true to its rustic Italian origins as a thick stew of pasta and beans in a creamy broth. It’s a simple one-pot meal that’s incredibly economical.
What is Pasta e Fagioli?
There are two distinct recipes for pasta e fagioli: the Olive Garden recipe and the Italian recipe.
When you google pasta e fagioli in English, what you’ll most often find are recipes for the Olive Garden version.
These include ingredients not used in the Italian recipe such as ground beef, sausage, and chunky vegetables. The broth also tends to be more liquid and heavily tomato-based (red) rather than bean-based (brown).
Now, if you google “pasta e fagioli ricetta” in Italian and just take a look at the photos, you’ll see immediately how different the dish is made in Italy.
It’s basically just pasta and beans in a very thick pureed bean broth with no chunks of veggies.
If you google translate a few recipes (which is what I did to put together this recipe), or watch them on youtube, you’ll see how humble and rustic the dish is – a far cry from how American bloggers make it!
Rather than ground beef or sausage, it can be flavoured with pancetta and lard, although many recipes omit animal products altogether.
There is usually a mirepoix (or soffritto) of very finely minced onion, carrot and celery to make the base of the broth. The garlic is usually used whole just to flavour the oil and then removed rather than minced.
In its most traditional form, the beans are cooked from dry for several hours after soaking overnight.
The bean cooking water itself can be used as the stock, if not plain water, vegetable or chicken stock.
Quick versions use canned beans.
What Kind of Beans are in Pasta e Fagioli
Borlotti or cannellini beans. Some recipes use a combination of the two.
Borlotti beans can be hard to find but you may substitute cranberry beans (sometimes called Roman beans) if you are cooking them from dry.
You can also substitute pinto beans if you are using canned beans.
As a substitute for cannellini beans if you can’t find them you can use great Northern beans or white navy beans.
Kidney beans are too strong in flavour and you would never find chickpeas or lentils in an Italian pasta e fagioli soup recipe, so don’t even think about it!
Pasta e Fagioli vs Minestrone
If you want an Italian to explain to you the difference between pasta e fagioli and minestrone, you should read this, it’s very interesting!
Tl;dr: while both soups have pasta and beans, pasta e fagioli is just pasta and beans (and sometimes tomato) while minestrone has other vegetables added to it and fewer beans.
(That’s what makes the chunky American pasta e fagioli recipes more similar to minestrone than actual Italian pasta e fagioli, lol!)
How to Make Vegan Pasta e Fagioli Soup
It’s super simple. As I already mentioned, most Italian recipes start by frying pancetta either alone or with lard.
To veganize this, I use olive oil. Add a couple tablespoons to a pot and add two whole cloves of garlic.
Let the garlic gently fry for a couple of minutes to flavour the oil. Meanwhile, finely mince some onion, carrot and celery.
A quick and easy way to get a super fine mince is to use a food processor. You can also chop them by hand but you want them to be super fine and not chunky.
Since this recipe uses water, the mirepoix of vegetables is the backbone of the flavour of the stock. The finer you mince them, the better they melt into the stock without being perceptible.
If you’ve got time, let the vegetables gently sweat over medium-low heat. The slower you go, the more flavour comes out. If you’re short on time, you can raise the heat a bit to soften them in about 5 minutes.
Now add the beans. I like to add them undrained and unrinsed so that the aquafaba helps to thicken the soup. If you’re weary of the preservatives, you can rinse them first.
Also add a cup of crushed tomato and just enough water to cover, about a cup. Allow this to gently simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t burn.
Now the most important part: take a ladleful from the pot (beans and a bit of stock) and blitz it either in a food processor or in the tall cup that comes with your immersion blender.
This bean puree is what makes the soup creamy and also adds flavour.
Add that back to the pot along with the dry pasta and enough water to cover. Simmer until the pasta is cooked, adding more water if necessary so that the pasta remains submerged.
Now here’s the weird part. Since I omit the pancetta, I add a touch of dark miso paste in order to give the soup some umami.
Just 1/2 tablespoon isn’t enough to make it taste like miso soup and no one would ever guess that it has miso in it, but it adds extra savouriness and a bit of “meatiness”.
If that’s too out there for you, you can leave it out.
Once the pasta is al dente, your pasta e fagioli soup is done. Generally speaking, Italian pasta e fagioli is quite thick and more akin to a stew than a soup.
However, you can adjust the consistency if you prefer it thinner by adding more water.
If you added too much water and it’s too thin, let it sit for a few minutes and it will thicken up.
How Long Will it Keep?
As I just mentioned, the soup will thicken as it cools as the pasta soaks up the broth so it’s best to serve it immediately.
That being said, you can keep any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 days.
There will be no more broth left in it but you can add a couple splashes of water or vegetable stock to your pot or bowl when reheating it.
It can be reheated on the stove or in the microwave.
Pasta e fagioli is not a good candidate for freezing because the pasta won’t hold up well through freezing and reheating.
What to Serve with Pasta e Fagioli
Crusty bread all the way!
In Italian recipes, pasta e fagioli is often finished with a drizzle of olive oil over the bowl and a grating of Parmesan cheese.
I used the vegan Parmesan from Violife (not sponsored) and a sprinkling of parsley to garnish mine.
Pasta e Fagioli Soup
- 1/2 medium onion – $0.08
- 1 medium carrot peeled – $0.16
- 1 celery stalk leaves removed – $0.13
- 2 tablespoons olive oil – $0.20
- 2 cloves of garlic – $0.08
- 2 (15 oz / 425 grams / about 3 cups) cans of borlotti (can sub pinto) or cannellini (can sub great Northern) beans, do not drain – $1.56
- 1 cup (250 ml) crushed tomatoes – $0.34
- Water as necessary – $0.00
- 8.8 oz (250 grams / 1.5 cups) short pasta such as ditalini – $0.65
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste – $0.03
- 1/2 tablespoon dark miso paste optional, adds umamai. See note – $0.17
- Pepper to taste – $0.03
- Roughly chop the onion, carrot and celery. Place them in a food processor and pulse until very finely minced. You can also mince them by hand but they need to be very finely minced in order to meld into the stock.
- Place the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat and add the two whole cloves of garlic. Gently fry for 2 minutes until beginning to soften but not brown.
- Add the finely minced vegetables and gently sweat, stirring occasionally, until very soft – about 10 minutes.
- Add the two cans of beans with the liquid from the can. The liquid helps thicken the soup but if it grosses you out you can rinse them first. Also add the crushed tomatoes and enough water to just cover – about 1 cup (250 ml).
- Bring to a gently simmer and simmer for 15 minutes to reduce and bring out the flavour, stirring frequently so that the beans don’t stick to the bottom.
- Remove the two garlic cloves. Transfer one ladleful (about 1/2 cup / 125 ml) of beans with a bit of the liquid from the pot to a food processor or the tall cup that comes with an immersion blender and blitz into a puree.
- Add the bean puree back to the pot along with the pasta, salt, and enough water to cover and cook the pasta (about 2 cups / 500 ml).
- Simmer until the pasta is al dente, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom, and adding more water if necessary.
- Optional: put the miso paste in a small bowl and spoon over a few tablespoons of the hot soup. Stir to dissolve the miso paste then add to the soup.
- Adjust the consistency of the soup to your liking if you want it a bit thinner. I added another 1/2 cup (125 ml) of water. Italian pasta e fagioli should be quite thick, however, so don’t thin it too much. If it’s too thin, let it sit for a few minutes and it will thicken up.
- Serve immediately before the pasta soaks up all the broth. Italian recipes usually add a drizzle of olive oil and lots of pepper over the bowl.