Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Pasta e Fagioli soup

I don't eat at Olive Garden very often; I try to never eat at chain restaurants unless I have to do so.  I travel occasionally for work, and notice that most places that support manufacturing facilities often have every chain restaurant known to man and so I can expect to be invited dine at least one of them; Olive Garden is usually in the mix.  Or the inevitable Panera boxed lunch, or Subway.  Even factories in the middle of acres of cornfields often manage to provide a Panera boxed lunch (sub sandwich, cookie, chips, pop).  It must be part of Panera's business model to locate themselves near midwest industrial parks.    When I am asked for my preference, I always suggest that I'd like to try whatever the town's specialty is.    I don't get to travel to exciting locales, instead, I am usually going to a place that might end in "-ville".   My boss often adds "-ville" on the end of any city we are going to just for fun, even if it doesn't actually have it appended to it's name.  By asking about the local favorites, I find out about the local favorite salad dressing in Cozad, Nebraska or the delicious cream cheese filled blueberry muffin from a bakery in Montpelier, Ohio or the best takeout pizza in Cleveland.   If I was always eating at Panera or Starbucks, I would never have found these local food gems.   But sometimes, people think that the Olive Garden is the best restaurant in their town, so I will go there on occasion, but it's never my first choice.  I realized that perhaps I was a bit of a food snob when my son was going to the Olive Garden with a group for the homecoming dance, and he was concerned about it because he doesn't like olives and thought that is all they might feature there.   He was 15 years old and never had been to an Olive Garden in his entire life!  He made up for lost time - all during football season, he'd go there with his friends for team dinner because they really serve huge portions.

When I go to Olive Garden, I always get the same thing: the unlimited minestrone soup and salad.   I rarely eat pasta at's too easy to make at home.   I try to eat as many vegetables as possible on business  trips because it is really easy to gain weight eating out for 3 meals a day.    So I confess, I've never tried the original Olive Garden Pasta e Fagioli soup, but when I was talking to my sister the other day, she said it was one of her favorites and she made a copycat version of it and thought it was great.   After eating tons of rich foods this holiday season, I thought soup would be a good meal for the day before Christmas Eve, so I trolled the internet for a recipe.   I found one that I thought I could start with, however I wanted to use dried beans instead of canned and increase their proportion.  Also, I thought it was silly to cook the pasta separately, so I changed that, too.   The result was a very good hearty soup; more like a chili and full of lots of vegetables.   The men in the house usually rebel as soup served as a meal, but I didn't get too many complaints this time!  It is very filling.

Pasta e Fagioli a la Mothers Kitchen

1 c dried red kidney beans
1 c dried great northern beans
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 14.5­ ounce cans diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 15­ ounce can tomato sauce
1 1/2 c V­8 juice
1 c. water
1/2 pound (1/2 pkg.) ditali pasta
1 T white vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Cook dried beans your favorite way and drain.   My favorite way is to cover beans with water and pressure cook them for 25 minutes.  Meanwhile,  brown the ground beef and add vegetables, garlic and herbs and cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes.   Add tomatoes, sauce and juice and cook for about 30 minutes.   Add water, beans and pasta and cook until pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes.  Add white vinegar and season with salt and pepper.   Serve with parmesan cheese.


Tracy Wood said...

This is about the best soup on earth - even tho it comes from a 'chain' restaurant. I'm tagging for future reference! :)

mary said...

Thank you for promoting independent restaurants!!! As a family restaurant owner we love those of you will are willing to explore beyond the chains- especially while traveling. Your experiences prove that there are still a lot of unique foods to be explored. It often means a bit of "googling" or hunting away from the food strips but owners certainly appreciate your curiosity and business! Merry Christmas!

Vivienne said...

This is one of the great world soup meals.

Note on beans: I cook mine in a slow cooker, usually the whole package at once, and freeze them in their cooking broth, in jars. Ready for soup!