A super delicious, classic Italian soup. Takes about 45 minutes to prep, then the slow cooker does the magic!
Sweet little Emmy (our two year old granddaughter) and I were sitting together earlier this week, enjoying breakfast. She was cheerfully gobbling up her bowl of granola, yogurt and fresh fruit when she stopped and peered into my bowl. She looked up at me and asked, “Why you eat soup for breakfast, Gigi?”
“Because I’m odd.” I replied.
“Why you odd?” she asked quizzically.
“That’s how God made me”.
“I no think I wanna be odd, Gigi.”
Okay I agree, it is a bit odd to eat soup for breakfast, but after having this delicious Slow Cooker Pasta e Fagioli (pronounced like this) for dinner the night before, I could hardly wait to try it again. I’d been working on the recipe for a few days, tweaking this, changing that and I was pretty sure it was right. After my “odd” breakfast, I was sure it was ready to roll!
If you check online, there are lots of unique versions of this classic Italian soup which, literally translated means “pasta and beans”. It was traditionally meatless, originating as a peasant meal. The recipe varied according to the region and available ingredients. These days, some versions are thin and soupy where others are thicker, with more pasta, beans and other ingredients, almost like a potage. Pancetta (an Italian bacon) is often added for flavor and here in the States, Olive Garden has made Pasta Fagioli quite famous with their rendition, which includes ground beef.
In our recent Café Reader Survey, there were lots of requests for more slow cooker recipes as well as easy entertaining recipes. With this in mind, I had fun creating a delicious meal-in-one Pasta e Fagioli, specially designed for the slow cooker. It can be prepped in the morning (or even the night before), left on it’s own all day and requires minimal last minute effort. And the fragrant aroma that’ll greet you after a day at work or school is amazing!
The type of beans that are used in Pasta e Fagioli varies widely. In Italy, the bean of choice is the borloti (aka cranberry) bean but seems that here in the U.S., red beans, white beans, big beans, small beans are all quite common. The New York Times has a version with pinto beans and another recipe I looked at called for cannellini beans AND lentils. I chose dark red kidney beans and loved the way they came out intact and beautiful, yet meltingly tender after their stint in the slow cooker.
One other variable is the pasta. I saw lots of versions that used elbow pasta, though it seems that Ditalini (a small straight pasta with open ends) was the traditional pasta of choice. Ditalini can be found at most larger grocers that carry a decent selection of pasta, or you can go online. Feel free to use elbow pasta or any small pasta, if you have difficulty finding Ditalini.
I always love to incorporate as many veggies as possible in my soups, so in addition to chopped onion, this one calls for a whole pound of carrots. Being a bit lazy, I used the baby carrots which don’t require peeling. Another time saving ingredient I love to use in soups and sauces is purchased pesto. It adds a ton of delicious basil and garlic flavor with almost no effort.
I keep a jar of pesto in my freezer. When I want to use it, I let it thaw slightly, just enough to scoop out what I need, then return it to the freezer. It can also be frozen in small individual jars or ice cube trays. I used to do that, but find it easier to just freeze the whole jar. If I can’t make my own, I really like the pesto from Costco’s. It’s reasonable and the big jar lasts a long time in the freezer.
Other than chopping the veggies, the only other prep that’s done for this Slow Cooker Pasta e Fagioli is browning the meat. I used lean ground sirloin, as well as a smaller amount of Italian sausage, for lots of hearty flavor. Once the meat is browned, make sure to drain off any fat that’s accumulated to keep the soup healthy. Before transferring the meat to the slow cooker a splash of dry red wine is added and cooked away till nothing but rich flavor’s left. I also add a small can of tomato paste at this point and let it cook with the meat for a few minutes till it’s deeply red and fragrant. This little bit of extra time in the beginning yields a finished soup, well worth the effort!
Other than fresh rosemary, the rest of the ingredients come from pantry cans and bottles. Just dump everything in the slow cooker and the magic begins! Oh and speaking of slow cookers, I have to tell you about about an amazing little machine I’ve had fun playing with. Though this is not a sponsored post, I recently received a slow cooker from KitchenAid.
It’s actually called a Multi Cooker because it (get this!) has the ability to sear, boil, sauté, simmer as well as slow cook. What that means is, I can brown my meat right in the slow cooker, then add the other ingredients and switch it over to slow cook.
Talk about a time and work saver, I’m very impressed! It’s also so sleek and gorgeous that it’s perfect for serving guests. Thank you KitchenAid!
Serve the soup topped with a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of beautiful, green parsley for a delicious and lovely presentation.
Although most slow cooker recipes are intended for easy, everyday dinners, this one’s also elegant and delicious enough for entertaining. I won’t promise everyone will speaking Italian by the time they finish dinner, but I can tell you they’ll be seconds requested. Hey, it’s so good, some odd ball might even want the leftovers for breakfast!
Disclosure: Although I was given a KitchenAid MultiCooker, I was not required to write this post or compensated for it monetarily. The opinions are definitely my own.
- 1 pound ground beef*
- ½ pound Italian sausage**
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt for meat
- ½ cup dry red wine
- 1 6- ounce can tomato paste
- 1 medium onion finely chopped
- 1 pound carrots*** peeled and sliced
- 1 14 1/2- ounce can fire-roasted canned tomatoes if you can't find these, just use regular diced tomatoes
- 8 cups beef broth
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons pesto****
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 15 ounce can dark red kidney beans drained and rinsed
- 1 ¼ cups ditalini pasta uncooked
- For garnish:
- fresh parsley for serving
- freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving
- Brown ground beef and Italian sausage and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium size pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. (If you're using the KitchenAid Multi Cooker, just brown the meat right in the insert.) Cook, stirring frequently and breaking up meat with a metal or plastic spatula, till meat mixture is deep golden brown. With a large spoon or spatula, push meat to one side and tip pot so that any grease will accumulate on the other side. Remove any accumulated grease with a spoon or sop up with paper towels and discard.
- Add the red wine to the meat and bring to a steady simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until almost all the wine has evaporated, about 3-5 minutes. Add tomato paste and, stirring frequently, cook for another few minutes, until mixture is fragrant and turns deep red in color. Transfer mixture to the insert of your slow cooker.
- Add all remaining ingredients except pasta. Cover and cook on low power for 7-8 hours or until carrots are nice and tender.
- Just before serving, cook Ditalini (or other pasta) according to package directions until al dente. Drain and add to soup***** (see notes below). Serve soup with a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of finely chopped fresh parsley.
* I like to use ground sirloin as it's leaner.
** I use Johnsonville brand as it's very lean and has great flavor.
*** I like to use the baby carrots as there's no peeling.
**** Homemade or purchased pesto is fine. I really like the pesto sold at Costco. I store it in the freezer, thaw it slightly and just scoop out what I need.
***** If you're not serving all of the soup right away, you may want to store the soup and pasta separately as the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid from the soup. The other option is to add more beef broth when serving leftovers if you like to keep the soup more "brothy". I like it both ways, it's a little heartier after some of the broth is absorbed.
This recipe makes a large batch. Feel free to half it if you don't need as much however it makes wonderful leftovers!
Makes 12 1 1/2-cup servings