Winter Cure-All – Pasta e Fagioli…

Memorandum

To: 2011

From: Your humble servant, Meghan Claire Hargraves the First

Re: Ummm, seriously?

2011, can we talk? Just for a minute? I mean, I don’t want to trouble you or anything, I know you’re new at this, and you haven’t had much time to figure stuff out yet, but I just gotta tell you, YOU. ARE. THE. WORST. Honestly, I’m kind of flabbergasted. I had such high hopes for you, such big plans, but in this first couple of weeks you have totally blown it.

Don’t worry though, I am giving you a second chance. You officially get a re-do. Starting tomorrow morning, if you can get it together, I am happy to forget these first awful moments ever happened. So hop to it! I expect results in the morning. Your first improvement could be the weather, because this is gross.

Best of luck,

MCH numero Uno

Speaking of the weather, there are a few other things I would like to have a few words with:

1. Faneuil Hall: Listen Faneuil, I know you are historic and crap, but the puddles! Ohhh, the untraversable puddles.

2. Timberland Hiking Boots: It seems you are neither waterproof, nor provide good traction in bad weather. So seriously, what is the point? I promise, I’m not in this for your looks.

3. City of Boston: Sidewalks actually have the word WALK right in it. I feel, therefore, that I should be able to do just that without risking grievous bodily harm. Please advise.

On days like these sometimes the only answer is soup.

comfort in a bowl

Before I tell you where this came from, I want to tell you how delicious and hearty and quick and easy and just as perfect leftover it is. Because it is definitely all of those things. I used to make this A LOT. At least once a month I think, and it would make a good dinner or two and then lots of excellent lunches. It freezes perfectly. The only noticeable difference between the freshly made version and the leftover version is that the pasta continues to soak up the liquid, so what is a soup at the beginning is really more of a stew upon reheating. And if your reaction to that is OH! That’s what Rachel Ray would call a stoup! I say to you, first GAH! because that is a wretched word that makes me gag a little and also she drives me totally crazy and the mere sight of her leaves me quaking with rage, and second, I KNOW, because guess where I found this recipe (hanging my head in shame.) Indeed, this is a Ray Ray special. In my defense, when 30 minute meals was a brand new infant show I think I was in college. And it was actually a great idea. Start to finish in 30 minutes, who couldn’t use ideas like that? The problem I have with it now is not only that increased exposure to Ms. Ray has left me fighting off murderous urges at the mention of her name, but also and perhaps more problematic, there are just not enough different things that can be done start to finish in 30 minutes to have enough material for eleventy seasons of that show, or however many there are. Frying ground beef and dumping it on a bed of lettuce is not only NOT A MEAL (in that vein, please go on to the food network website and search for her recipe for bacon in the microwave, because, I kid you not, it’s on there) but also, is GROSS. And even though you are using a slightly different cut of meat and a slightly different variation on a pan sauce, it is still pan fried beef with a pan sauce,  not a totally different meal. Also, she is crazy annoying.

Where was I? This soup. It’s good, and so I have to give Rach a little credit for that. The ingredients are all ones you may even already have on hand, or are so easy to find. And while I couldn’t do this in exactly 30 minutes or less (VERY easily distracted) it was pretty close. There is a lot of flavor, but nothing weird to scare picky eaters or children, and while I use bacon and chicken stock, you could do it without the bacon and use a good veggie stock and it would probably be a pretty good vegetarian option.

It all starts in a familiar fashion…

onions, carrots, celery, garlic, olive oil

But actually, that’s misleading, because it should start with bacon and olive oil. I forgot. Luckily for me, I remembered before the soup was finished and I cooked the bacon in a separate pan and when it was starting to get brown and crispy I dumped that and the rendered fat into the pan. I have not noticed a difference in enjoyment thus far.

Next in goes herbs. I usually use rosemary and thyme, but if you can believe it, the grocery store did not have thyme, so I bought a poultry mix because that was sure to have thyme in it. Who cooks poultry without thyme, right?? Well, apparently, every farm in the area of this particular herb vendor was out of thyme because there was none in the poultry packet either. Dumb. So I threw some parsley in there because I had it, but I don’t usually use it because we all know how I feel about parsley.

avec les fines herbes...

Let the herbs wilt for a minute or so then add crushed tomatoes. Stir for a couple of minutes to let the flavors combine and then in goes the beans. Two cans of cannellini beans (I don’t drain them first) then a quart of chicken stock and two cups of water. That’s pretty much it, we’re almost done.

looks almost good enough already, no?

The last step is to bring this mixture to a boil, then add a couple handfuls of small pasta, I like ditalini-not least because it’s fun to say, but elbows would be fine, or orecchiette or orzo or whatevs. I tend to think I haven’t added enough pasta because it sort of disappears in there, but I warn you, the pasta seems to multiply like rabbits. You need less than you think. If you are heavy handed with the pasta this will quickly become small pasta with bean and vegetable sauce. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not exactly the intention. I served this with a cheesy crouton. If you have to ask why you probably don’t know me very well or shouldn’t bother getting to know me, because that is a ridiculous question.

You can't get me down that easy, 2011...

So there you go, make yourself feel better. Make this.

Before I get to the recipe, I have some closing thoughts…(surprise!) And in honor of Peter King and Monday Morning Quarterback, here are ten things I think I think…

1. I wrote the memo to 2011 on Tuesday night. It is now Thursday. I dare say, I may have gotten my point across! I mean yesterday morning? I found THIS. Things are looking up! If that was not written just for me I don’t know what was. I am already saving for my miniature animal farm. There will be goats and pigs and cows and I will live among them and practically die of cuteness. One of the pigs will be named Goliath.

2. My current favorite song is “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine. Try to be in a bad mood when you are listening to this song. It’s impossible.

3. I’ve been trying out something new for 2011. I am trying to train myself to sleep seven hours a night instead of eight, because otherwise there aren’t enough hours in the day. This mostly just results in me turning off my alarm in the morning and sleeping for another half hour, so it’s going well.

4. They say that not washing your hair everyday is good for your head suit and, incidentally, frees up some time in the morning. I am also trying this in 2011. It may or may not be related to number 3. (Editor’s note: It is totally related.)

5. I started taking classes at at dance studio near me. AWESOME. I’ve taken Zumba, which is sort of a combination of Latin and Indian dance. Lots of booty shaking and stuff. Add a hint of ballroom dancing (unintentional) random toe pointing and an inclination to move my arms in ballerina style and you’ve pretty much got an entire class made of my Saturday night party moves. It’s awesome. I’ve also taken hip hop. This is more of a struggle. My ability to memorize step sequences has diminished significantly in the last 16 years. Also, I can’t move my arms in any coordinated manner while also moving my legs in a coordinated manner. I suspected this all along.

6. Oh Patriots, I was counting on a few more glorious games. And the JETS? Really? That is like the bullies winning in an afterschool special. That is not supposed to happen.

7. I am sometimes taken aback by the awesomeness of my friends. I am very lucky.

8. My second class has started. I still love being in school, but this one, I suspect, is going to be a smidge more difficult. My hand hurt from frantic note taking after last Monday. Those muscles have apparently atrophied.

9. This has been a particularly snowy winter already, right? Also, what happened to having to wait until you woke up in the morning to find out the big surprise that you didn’t have school (which happened pretty much never. We ALWAYS had school.) The kids up here knew they didn’t have school today at 4pm yesterday.

10. 10 things is a lot of things to think…but once again, my mantra for 2011: Be good to each other.

Pasta e Fagioli (serves 4-6)

adapted from Rachel Ray

2 tbls olive oil

4 slices of bacon cut into 3/4 inch pieces

2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, stems intact

1 (4 to 6-inch) sprig thyme, stems intact

2 dried bay leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 small carrots, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

Coarse salt and pepper

2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

2 cups water

4 cups chicken stock

2 handfuls ditalini pasta (or other small dried pasta)

Heat a deep pot over medium high heat and add oil and bacon. Brown the bacon pieces lightly, and add herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Season vegetables with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, beans water, and stock to pot and raise heat to high. Bring soup to a rapid boil and add pasta. Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Remove herb stems and bay leaf from soup. Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes. Ladle soup into bowls serve. Freezes beautifully.

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