What makes this Pasta Fagioli so fabulous? Sausage. Dumplings. Yup, little pork meatballs spiced like sausage and cooked IN the soup like dumplings rather than being fried or baked. They impart a lovely pork richness to the broth that enhances what is a very nice comfort soup to begin with. Fabulous.
The recipe is adapted from a Rachel Ray 30 Minute Meal. Love her or hate her, her recipes are yummy (or should I say, yumm-o!) easy to make, and come together fairly quickly. I can never make them happen in 30 minutes….but they don’t take MUCH longer.
Here are the ingredients. (See if you can find the ingredient I didn’t have when I made this last week!)
For the soup:
1/2 pound of pancetta, diced
olive oil (for rendering pancetta, sauteing veggies)
2 celery ribs
1 medium onion
1 bay leaf
2-3 cloves of garlic, grated
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 TBSP tomato paste
One 18 ounce can of white beans, such as cannelini beans
1 to 1 1/2 cup ditalini (amount depends on how thick you like your soup–ditalini is traditional for this soup, but any small pasta will do)
One 32 ounce box of chicken stock (broth) (You can add more broth, or water if the soup gets too thick.)
For the dumplings:
1 pound ground pork
grated cheese (pre-grated, or grate your own using the fine side of your grater or a microplane. I’ve used parmesan, I’ve used pecorino romano–both worked and tasted great! Amount to be determined by how your meatballs “feel”)
bread crumbs (pre-packaged or make your own. I like Panko. Amount to be determined by how your meatballs “feel”)
1 TBSP fennel seeds
salt and pepper to taste (The cheese you use might be a bit salty–if so, you’ll want to back off on the salt.)
Did you find the missing ingredient? The pancetta! I just put the olive oil in the pan and went on with the veggies. Pancetta is a tricky ingredient to find here in Western Colorado; although, I did spot some in the deli at the Patterson Safeway. You can substitute regular bacon for the pancetta. The soup is yummier with that extra pork!
So. If you have it, render the pancetta in about a TBSP of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. While it renders, chop the carrots, celery and onion.
When the pancetta is starting to crisp, add the chopped carrots, celery, onion, grated (or squished through a garlic press) garlic, salt and pepper, and bay leaf. Cook until the veggies are tender.
Add the tomato paste, beans, and chicken stock. (Just a side-note: tomato paste in a tube–if you can find it–is wonderful for this recipe, since the recipe doesn’t use an amount equal to a small can.)
While the soup comes to a boil, make the dumplings: In a medium to large bowl, place the ground pork, grated cheese, bread crumbs, fennel seed and egg, salt and pepper. You’ll be guessing about the amount of cheese and bread crumbs–starting with less than you think you’ll need is best. I happened to guess really well with this batch–I’m thinking it was about 1/4 cup cheese, 1/2 cup crumbs.
Mix together with your hands (take rings off first!). You want a mixture that feels tender and a bit sticky. If it’s too sticky, add more crumbs, more cheese–be careful to not get the mixture dry and hard feeling. Then make your meatballs. Handy tip–I like to use a small cookie scooper–I scoop with one hand, and firm them up with the other hand.
Store the finished meatballs on a plate (For reference, this is a regular dinner-sized plate.) until you have all of them made. The scooper helps to keep them fairly equal in size. Safety note: Always wash your hands carefully before and after handling raw meat.
When the soup comes to a boil–which it will right about the time you’re finishing the last of the dumplings (meatballs)–carefully drop the dumplings and the ditalini into the boiling soup. Place the lid on the pot and simmer for 10-12 minutes. (If the soup wants to boil over, remove the lid for a minute, reduce the heat and replace the lid for the remaining time.)
Discard the bay leaf. Get yourself out some bowls and serve up your Positively Fabulous Pasta Fagioli with grated cheese–I like to use the same cheese I put in the dumplings. On the side, a simple salad, some toasted bread and maybe a glass of red wine! (Serves 6-8)
This soup is very flexible ingredient-wise without changing the flavor much. For example, for a vegitarian version, change the chicken broth to vegetable broth and the pork to “veggie burger”, omit the pancetta. For lower fat, use turkey bacon or skip it entirely, use ground turkey instead of ground pork. Like most soups, Pasta Fagioli is even more yummy the second day!