Bean by Bean, Crescent Dragonwagon's celebration of the brilliant little bean, is our March Cookbook of the Month! Beans are used as both star ingredients and supporting players in over 200 recipes, and the result is "always cheap and now chic, too."

Get a preview with this delish Italian dish:

Pasta e fagioli

Pasta e fagioli: simply “pasta and beans” in Italian. But for satisfying, earthy dishes easily and inexpensively made, this traditional peasant dish is hard to beat. originally prepared as a homey way to use up leftovers, this typically meatless soup can range from a flavorful broth studded with small pastas and cannellini or borlotti beans, to a heartier soup-stew. the longer it sits, the thicker it gets.

  • 1 1?2 cups dried white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern, soaked overnight (see page 348) and rinsed

  • 2 onions, 1 coarsely chopped, 1 finely chopped

  • 1?2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving

  • 1 carrot, diced

  • 1 stalk celery with leaves, diced

  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • 2?3 cup canned diced tomatoes with their juice

  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, needles stripped from the stem and finely chopped

  • About 5 1?2 cups boiling water or vegetable or chicken stock, or a combination

  • 1?2 cup minced fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • About 6 ounces ditalini, small shells, elbows, or ziti (roughly one third of a 1-pound package)

  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano and/or Parmesan cheese, for serving

1) Place the beans in a large, heavy saucepan, add water to cover to a depth of 1 inch, and set over high heat. Add the coarsely chopped onion, bring the pot to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer and let cook until the onion has almost disintegrated and the beans are almost tender, about 1 hour.

2) Drain the beans and onions, reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer about a cup of the liquid and about a cup of the beans (with some of the cooked onions) to a food processor. Buzz smooth and set aside.

3) Toward the end of the bean cooking time, heat the oil in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion and gently saute? it until it begins to get limp but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and celery, and saute? until slightly tender, another 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute? until fragrant, 1 minute more.

4) Add the beans and their cooking liquid to the vegetables in the soup pot. Then add the tomatoes, rosemary, and pureed beans, as well as about 3 cups of the boiling water. Bring the pot to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and let cook, covered, until the beans are fully and meltingly tender and everything has gotten to know each other cozily, about another hour. Lift the lid from time to time, both to stir (the pureed beans may want to stick) and to add more boiling water as needed. The beans should be covered by 1 to 3 inches of simmering liquid at all times. (This range is so large because, as noted, the amount of liquid depends on whether you prefer a brothy or thick soup. Remember, too, that the pasta will cook in the liquids, thickening them.)

5) When the beans are pillowy and soft, add half the minced parsley, salt and pepper to taste, and another cup of boiling water to the pot. Bring back to a boil, uncovered, add the pasta, and cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste again, adding more salt and pepper as needed.

6) Serve, hot, in warmed bowls. Garnish each bowl with a thread of olive oil, a shower of the remaining parsley, and some cheese. Pass additional cheese and a cruet of olive oil at the table.

Serves 4 to 6


Sardinian Chickpea & Fennel Pasta e Fagioli
Substitute chickpeas for the cannellini, but in step 1, let them cook for 2 1?2 hours instead of 1 hour. In step 3, the vegetable saute?, replace the carrot and celery with 1 large bulb fennel, halved and very thinly sliced (remove and discard the stalk, stem, and most of the fronds; mince a few fronds to yield 2 to 3 tablespoons; set them aside). Saute? the sliced fennel and onion over low heat until the fennel starts softening, about 8 minutes. In step 4 add 4 or 5 peeled and diced small potatoes and the reserved minced fennel fronds to the soup pot along with the other ingredients. Proceed with the recipe as directed.

Fooling, Drooling, Pasta Fazooling

Pasta e fagioli has humble origins, but this unassuming soup is a
celebrity featured in the lyrics of not one, not two, but three popular American songs. The first was “Pastafazoola,” by the vaudeville duo Van and Schenck in 1927 (“Please take my advice / If you wanna eat something nice / don’t be a fool, eat pasta fazool”). The second was Cab Calloway’s recording of “Everybody Eats When They Come to My House,” which was written in 1947 by Jeanne Burns. In it, an ebullient Cab invites friends to sample various foods: “Have a banana, Hannah . . . Pasta Fazoola, Tallulah!” The third mention is “That’s Amore,” made famous by Dean Martin in 1952. The song (composed by Harry Warren, born Salvatore Guaragna, and lyricist Jack Brooks) explains that you know that you’re really, truly in love “When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool . . .”
“Pasta e fagioli” from Bean by Bean by Crewcent Dragonwagon. Copyright © 2012 by Crescent Dragonwagon. Reprinted by permission of Workman. All rights reserved. Read our review of this book.

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