Around Christmas we went to a tree lighting with our friends C & D and their two kids. Before the lighting we met for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Being Italian, D was skeptical when the waiter said one of their soup choices was pasta fagioli since he has a very specific memory of his grandpa making this soup when he was a kid. The restaurant version wasn't even close and he was lamenting his inability to find good pasta fagioli these days. Melissa had posted this recipe for Pasta E Fagioli awhile back and I had a feeling it would live up to D's expectations. I quickly planned a meal around this soup and we set a date for them to come over.
I was a bit nervous making this soup for two reason - the dried beans and the ham hocks. I had never cooked with either ingredient before and really wanted this to be a great soup for D. Thankfully this was incredibly easy to put together, if a bit time-consuming due to letting the dried beans soak and the cooking time. I STRONGLY encourage you to make this soup the day before to really let the flavors blend together. D proclaimed this excellent and all of us, the kids included, loved this soup. Thanks Melissa!
Pasta E Fagioli
Slightly adapted from I Was Born to Cook
1 pound dry cannellini beans
2 smoked ham hocks
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup prepared marinara sauce
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes or to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup ditalini, cooked according to package directions for al dente
Olive oil for drizzling
Lay beans on a rimmed baking sheet and pick through them to make sure there are no stones or any other foreign objects mixed in. Rinse the beans under cold water, then add them to a large Dutch oven and cover with water a couple of inches over the beans.
Bring beans to a boil then turn off the heat and let stand for at least one hour to soften. Drain the beans and add back to the pot. Fill the pot with fresh water a couple of inches over the beans. Add the ham hocks, garlic cloves and oregano. Let cook for 1 hour, then add the marinara and hot pepper flakes. Cook for another 45 minutes or until the beans are tender.
(If making the day before, allow the soup to cool then store in the fridge overnight).
When ready to serve, remove the ham hocks from the soup and cut off any meat. Coarsely chop and add to the soup. Bring the soup back to a boil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Right before serving, add the cooked pasta and let sit for a few minutes so the flavors can blend. Do this just before serving so the pasta doesn't absorb all the liquid. Ladle soup into bowls and drizzle with olive oil before serving.