Here in Chicago, we gear up for the sub-zero temperatures around late November. Be it El Nino or just good fortune, January 10 marked the first day of truly cold weather in the Windy City. Some curse it. I say, bring it on because that means one thing and one thing only: SOUP SEASON.
Nothing warms and comforts quite like a bowl of soup. I have a host of favorite recipes that I've passed along over the years and not once have I had anything but rave reviews.
The first soup I fire up the minute the temperate drops is my Pasta e Fagioli. It's everything good about Italian flavors: pancetta, a solid mirepoix (AKA "The Holy Trinity"), fire-roasted tomatoes and the key ingredient -- anchovy fillets. My recipe came from a Cooks Illustrated cookbook my dear friend Shari gave me a few years back. Since then, I've worked with it a bit and it's my go-to at least twice a month during the winter. Best of all my kids (picky eaters that they are) love it. My youngest Finn has now renamed it "Magic Bean Soup" because he loves the cannellini beans and always asks for extras in his bowl.
And like many soups, it gets better over a few days. When my husband works late and the kids are down, a bowl of this, garlic toast and a glass of red wine makes dinner-for-one a heavenly experience.
So here it is (and don't forget the anchovies):
Heat oil. Add pancetta until crispy and slightly brown. Add onion, celery and carrots; cook stirring occasionally until mirepoix is softened -- 5-7 min. Add garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and anchovies; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add tomatoes with their liquid, scraping up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Net add cheese rind and beans; bring to boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer to blend flavors -- about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, water, and 1 tsp salt; increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Add pasta (ditalini, tubetini or conchgliette) and cook until tender (about 10 min).
Discard rind. Stir in 3 T of parsley, drizzle each serving with a little EVOO and grated Parmesan cheese. I also highly recommend a good Chianti and toasted country bread with a little garlic rubbed on top.
This makes anywhere from 8 to 10 servings... or if you love it as much as our family does, four gigantic servings on a really cold day.
If you plan to make ahead, wait to add pasta during reheat to avoid pasta getting mushy.