These colourful beans are fresh borlotti; their pods look even more amazing. They are not in season in Victoria, they are coming from Queensland, but I bought some last week at Stall 61-63 in The Queen Victoria Market – this is where I buy all of my Italian vegetables. In Italy, when the fresh beans are available they are considered to be a treat.
Probably every region of Italy has a version of pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans) or minestra (soup) di fagioli. It is called pasta e fasoi in Trieste, pasta e facioli in Calabria, pasta ca fasola in Sicily and mnestra di fasö in Piedmont; the list goes on.
There may be a slight difference between the two dishes in the amount of liquid used, but they are both thick soups, and in fact so thick that they are also referred to as wet pasta dishes.
This version of the recipe is pretty universal all over Italy, but probably the greatest variation is that in various parts of Italy the cook places sufficient liquid in the soup to cook the pasta in it, whereas in other regions the pasta is cooked separately, drained and dressed with the cooked beans. Rice instead of pasta is more commonly used in the north of Italy.
Not every greengrocer sells fresh borlotti nor are they always in season but dry borlotti (soaked overnight)are also widely used for this dish. Do not add salt to the water when cooking dry pulses – it makes them tough.
Fresh borlotti beans do not need to be soaked, but lose their colour when cooked. Soak beans in cold water overnight – they will swell so it is important to put them in plenty of water.
1 kilo of fresh beans will shelled left me with 450g; this is sufficient quantity for a plate of soup for 2-3 people.
Wet pasta dishes with pulses are commonly cooked plain and presented with a drizzle of oil.
borlotti beans, shelled, 450g
carrots, 2 finely sliced
celery stalks, 2 in bite-sized slices
fresh bay leaves, 2
short pasta, 300 – 400g ( depending on how wet you like the soup)
onion, 1 finely chbut preferably keep them whole – this will depend on how fresh the dried beans are, but fresh borlotti will take much less cooking time. Add salt to taste.
Cook the pasta.
Either add more water to the pan and cook the pasta in the soup or cook the pasta separately – I like to add stock or water with a good stock cube, salt and freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Drain the beans if they have been soaking.
Place sufficient water to cover the pulses and add the carrot, the tomato, celery and bay leaves (this will be the broth).
Bring the soup to the boil. Add the parsley. Cook the pulses until soft (20– 40 mins), but preferably keep them whole – this will depend on how fresh the dried beans are, but fresh borlotti will take much less cooking time. Add salt to taste.
Cook the pasta.
Either add more water to the pan and cook the pasta in the soup or cook the pasta separately – I like to add stock or water with a good stock cube at this stage and cook the pasta in the soup.If you are cooking the pasta separately combine the cooked pasta and use the soup to dress the pasta.
Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper or chili flakes (as is more common in the south of Italy) and serve.
I sometimes like to garnish this soup with a soffritto:
Heat about ¾ cup of olive oil in a wide pan, add a clove of finely chopped garlic and the parsley (use the parsley in the soffritto instead of cooking it in the soup).
Sauté on high heat – it should sizzle and the parsley turn bright green – then pour over the soup.