My grandma’s recipe for pasta fagioli departs from the typical soup version of the dish. Instead this is a hearty pasta dish, quick and economical enough to make on a weeknight when the pantry is bare. Grandma’s pasta fagioli is the definition of comfort food: warm, delicious and packed with love and happy memories.
My love for cooking started in my Grandma Pisani’s kitchen. She has a tiny stool that says “Happiness is Retirement”, or something to that effect. When I was a little girl, Grandma would pull the stool up to the counter and patiently walk me through the steps of her recipes. She started with the quick and simple ones, keeping in mind my small hands and attention span. Scrambled eggs, or “eggies”, as we called them, were an early favorite. As the years progressed, we moved on to grilled cheese and pan fried sausages, to cookies and Christmas kolachi. Grandma let me taste each ingredient, so I knew the difference between butter and oleo (margarine), between provolone and cheddar. The dishes we made were never complicated or fancy but were always delicious and full of her boundless love. They are the recipes I turn to when I’m feeling blue, homesick or under the weather. On a dreary Sunday afternoon, nothing makes me happier than making a big batch of meatballs and sauce, Grandma-style. The savory aroma and divine taste evaporate all of the years and miles and place me right back in Grandma’s kitchen, where nothing very wrong could ever happen and all problems could be cured with a cookie, a cup of tea and a hug.
Fortunately, not all of Grandma’s greatest hits are weekend-only affairs. This pasta fagioli is a perfect example. Lightning quick and made entirely of pantry staples, this is a busy weeknight’s saving grace. The entire dish is done in the time it takes the water to boil and pasta to cook. Chopping a little garlic is the extent of the culinary skill needed to pull this one off. Saute the garlic in some olive oil flavored with a pinch of red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning. Add some tomato sauce and red beans (red because my Dad and uncles used to pick the beans out- lunatics!- so Grandma used red beans to make this task easy for them) and simmer while the pasta finishes. Reserve some pasta water, drain pasta and toss in the sauce. Add pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce so it coats the pasta. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle on some shredded Parmesan and dinner is on the table. This is humble, good food, perfect to warm bellies and souls as the cold months approach.
Grandma with all of her grandchildren ❤
As is typical for a family recipe, there are a million stories and memories associated with this pasta fagioli. When my parents started dating, my dad brought my mom to dinner at Grandma’s house unannounced one evening. It was the first time my mom was meeting my dad’s family and Grandma was less than thrilled with her lack of notice. She had made this pasta fagioli and homemade pizza(!) and was embarrassed at the modest dinner she had prepared. Of course, my mom was floored by the delicious home cooked meal she was served and has raved about the pasta fagioli ever since. Which just goes to show, simple can be best and Grandma knows what she’s doing. Love you, Grandma!!!
Grandma Pisani’s Pasta Fagioli
This pasta fagioli is a hearty and economical pasta dish. The sauce just lightly coats the pasta. If you prefer a more saucy pasta, you may increase the amount of tomato sauce in the recipe by 1.5 to 2x the amount called for.
- 3 cups ditalini pasta
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves chopped garlic
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
- 1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- salt and pepper
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Season water generously with salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.
While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat in large skillet or saucepan. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning and cook another 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomato sauce and kidney beans. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Simmer sauce gently until pasta is done.
Once pasta is done, reserve 1 cup of pasta water and then drain pasta. Add pasta to sauce and toss to coat. Add reserved pasta water as necessary to ensure sauce evenly coats pasta. Taste and season again with salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.