Last night was one of those revolving door nights at our house. The kids had a practice right after school then had little more than an hour to come home and eat and they were back out the door for band practice! These are often the kind of nights when one or both of them will bring home a friend who has the same schedule but lives further from the school and would either end up skipping dinner or eating fast food. Last night my son brought home a hungry friend.
It was nice to have a 5th at our table. A fact that became very evident when I asked my dear daughter to pass the bread my way. Our guest, seated at the other end of the table lifted the bread and passed it toward my daughter, who had to get up out of her seat to retrieve the bread board from him. She turned to me and said, “I’d forgotten how long our table was!” It’s true. I replied, “Just think, it used to be full all the time!” I guess with just the 4 of us we’ve gotten used to sitting all together at one end, so it was very nice to use a little more of the table for a change!
So, on nights like these I find that it is easiest to go with a soup or a sandwich filling like pulled pork or Sloppy Joes, something I can serve up as they swoop in. Last night I chose Pasta e Fagioli, a recipe I’d been working on for some time served up with a crusty, homemade Italian bread. Over the past year or so I’ve worked to combine different parts of different recipes with the elements I’ve tasted in our favorite restaurant bowls of the delicious dish! Last night it seems, I finally locked it down. At least our guest seemed pleased.
Here’s my recipe for Momma’s Pasta e Fagioli
• 4 or 5 slices of thick cut bacon or bacon ends (ask your butcher)
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 8 oz. carrots, diced
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 1 teaspoon minced garlic
• 1 lb. Ground beef
• 8 to 10 cups beef stock
• 2 – 14oz can of diced tomatoes
• 1 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 can navy beans, drained and rinsed
• 1½ teaspoons salt
• ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2 sprigs fresh thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
• 1 teaspoon dried basil
• 1-2 tsp. chili powder (more or less, depending on taste)
• 2/3 cup dry small elbow macaroni cooked to al dente
• 2/3 cup dry penne or ziti rigate, cooked al dente and cut in half (use kitchen shears to do this after it’s been cooked.)
• Dash of hot sauce
• 1/3 cup freshly shredded Parmesan
1. Brown bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until cooked to your liking. Our bacon is very lean and almost ham like so I like to crisp it nicely around the edges.
2. Remove the bacon to the stock pot and reserve any drippings in the skillet. Add oil to the drippings if necessary. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the onion, carrots and garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook stirring occasionally until the onion is very tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to stock pot.
3. Cook ground beef in skillet. Drain and remove to stock pot when it is cooked through.
4. Add the stock, tomatoes and beans, add salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.
5. Stir in the cooked pasta, and all the seasonings except the hot sauce. Cook, uncovered, about 10 minutes longer over medium-low heat, adding more beef stock if necessary. (Keep in mind though, this is to be a thick, chili-like soup). NOTE: the picture shows short pieces of spaghetti in the pot. This was an experiment to add a different element to the soup but we found it to be too messy.
6. Hit the soup with a dash or two of hot sauce and serve it up with shredded Parmesan cheese and/or a slice of warm, fresh, crusty bread!
The bread was also CRAZY good and so easy to make! Here’s the link to that recipe: http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2008/08/11/italian-bread/
I followed her recommendations to bake the bread on an inverted baking sheet that I placed in the oven during preheating. I put another baking sheet on the lowest rack at that time as well and poured a cup of water on the hot sheet when I put the bread in. This eliminates the need to spray the loaf with water every three minutes at the beginning of the baking process to create the nice crust.
Having an extra person at our table last night got me thinking about how the kids’ schedules are getting busier and busier and how I’m going to get more phone calls between practices asking if they can bring home more people. It’s time to start cooking larger quantities! Those who know me know how this makes my heart soar! There’s always an extra chair (and food) at Momma T’s Table.