Yes, everybody makes basic cooking mistakes. Like, say, something as simple as overcooking mushrooms or toasting grains and spices. Below, reader Jennifer Knights Langley confessed botching a batch of pasta e fagioli to associate food editor Rick Martinez. Welcome to Effed it Up.
I have a problem with pasta e fagioli soup. It always tastes bitter when I make it. Is there any other way to build flavor other than pouring in chicken stock and tomato sauce? And, one last thing, how I prevent the noodles from getting mushy?
Okay, I’m going to keep it real with you. I just cringed reading that—just a little bit. See, here’s the thing: I love pasta e fagioli. The problem, as I’m sure you’re aware, is getting the timing right. But you’ve got this.
Unlike other pasta dishes where you cook the pasta to al dente for extra chew and then immediately remove it from the cooking liquid, pasta e fagioli—by definition—means that the pasta floats in hot broth even after it’s perfectly cooked. Guess what happens? It keeps cooking, and eventually gets softer and, yep, mushy.
This twist on a pasta e fagioli relies on chickpeas instead of cannellini beans. Photo: Ditte Isager
In order to make it work, I first start with a foolproof base. It involves simmering cannellini beans with a Parmesan rind, aromatics, vegetables, and chiles to build a flavor-packed stock. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer—adding more water as needed—until the beans are tender, about two to three hours. Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat, and let sit for 30 minutes. Discard rind and herbs.
Next up, inject some more life into those canned tomatoes. Cook ½ lb. chopped pancetta in 1 Tbsp. olive oil until golden brown and remove, then cook 1 can whole tomatoes in rendered fat, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Add ½ cup white wine and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add to cooked beans and liquid.
Seasoning the bean broth properly (as in the photo above) is half the battle. Photo: Tukka Koski
Boil ½ lb. pasta in heavily salted water and cook until al dente. Remove from water and toss in 3 Tbsp. olive oil. Those are the building blocks to your soon-to-be awesome soup.
But, okay, this is the real trick. Keep the pasta and fagioli separate. Combine only when you are ready to serve. Add a ½ to 1 cup full of pasta per bowl to hot soup with fagioli. By keeping them separate, you completely eliminate the possibility of overcooking either of them. You can keep the pasta in the refrigerator in a resealable plastic bag and just drop it in boiling soup right before serving. Top with chopped parsley and grated Parm and, Jennifer, you’ll have perfectly cooked pasta e fagioli each and every time.
Get the Recipe: Pasta e Fagioli with Escarole
Apply those same tactics to your chicken noodle soup.