Sunday, January 07, 2007

Pasta e Fagioli

Fast, cheap and satisfying...Pasta e Fagioli is a perfect soup/stew for those dreary days of January. This dish was a hit with the whole family--The Bug had thirds!

It's a rustic dish, so don't worry about perfect sizes on the vegetables. Also, while it seems like a lot of ingrediants, it's really a "what's in the fridge that needs to be used" dish. Add and subtract items as you wish. I like to make this when I have some leftover crusty bread to throw in. Total cooking time should take no more than an hour. This is a fresh, fast dinner. (To make it vegetarian, skip the chicken and make with your favorite veggie stock.)

Pasta e Fagioli

2 Tablespoons olive oil
Two boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I use the flash-frozen kind, so they're fairly big)
1/2 large yellow or white onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 head of celery, including center stalks, diced
1 large carrot, sliced or diced
1 head cauliflower, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 large can chicken broth
1 large can skinned, diced tomatoes
1 can white or black beans, with some liquid drained
1/2 cup small pasta, like tubetini or alphabets (if you do a mixture like me, watch cooking times)
8 oz frozen chopped spinach
1/4 cup romano cheese, shredded
crushed red pepper, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
day old sourdough bread, torn into bite-sized pieces (optional)
fresh herbs (basil, thyme, or parsley work well)

Heat olive oil in large stock pot on medium high; add whole chicken breasts. After they have browned on both sides, add onion, garlic, celery and carrot. Lower heat immediately to medium/medium low, saute until fragrant. Add chicken broth, turn to high heat and bring to a boil, then turn down to med/med-low again. Add cauliflower and tomatoes. Cook for about 3 minutes, then add pasta. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the pot.

Halfway in the pasta cooking time, add beans; stir well. Remove chicken breasts and slice into bite-sized pieces, return to pot with any juices that have collected in the cutting process.

When pasta is cooked, add frozen spinach. After about 3 minutes, add the bread, red and black pepper, and cheese. Check for seasonings.

Ladle into bowls and top with chopped fresh herbs.

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