This is a very special soup that my late friend Maria left for me with her awesome Tiramisu and other delicious Northern Italian recipes. So, when the weather is cool and you feel like staying indoors, it's time to make pasta e fagioli, a favorite Italian meal in a bowl. It can be brothy or quite thick, depending upon personal taste. Cooking the pasta separately from the soup helps the pasta maintain its texture. If you have made the soup in advance, add the cooked pasta when reheating the soup, as the pasta can become mushy if it stands too long in the soup. Serve it with warm crusty Italian bread to get every drop!
If you prefer you can make this soup vegetarian with vegetable stock and omit the pancetta. And if you have a sodium restriction by all means use low sodium chicken stock. Make it own!
Rinse the beans, drain and place in a saucepan. Add chicken stock to cover and bring to a slow boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour.
In a Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the pancetta and sauté, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté, stirring often, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the chicken stock and beans from previously, tomatoes and 2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer until beans tender, about 45 minutes.
To give the soup more body, remove 2 large spoonfuls of beans and vegetables and puree in a blender or food processor, then return the puree to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and reheat gently.
When the soup is almost ready,in a separate large saucepan bring three-fourths full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta, stir well and cook until barely al dente (tender but firm to the bite), about 8 minutes or according to the package instructions. Drain the pasta and add it to the soup. Simmer for 5 minutes more.
To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Top each serving with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil, some grated cheese and a generous grinding of pepper. Remember warm crusty Italian bread to get every drop!