We had a few friends over for dinner when we received our first "cold snap" of the season. Being in the Italian frame of mind and wanting something to warm my husbands belly, now that he's daunting a gray beard and getting ready to wear his Santa suit. What better way than to cook up an Italian staple such as pasta e fagioli? And, it's really fun to say over and over again with a Texan/Italian accent, which I know my Italian talking girlfriend just loves. It's really easy to make and makes the house smell like, well, Italy. A trip to Jimmy's in Dallas not only made me want to make this but had me thinking of Italy all over again and how much I love this cold weather. Cold weather, red wine and pasta e fagioli. A great accompaniment to a great meal that can easily serve a crowd. And, a bearded Santa.
6 ounces dried cannellini beans (1 cup)
1 whole head garlic plus 1 garlic clove
2 sprigs fresh thyme, rosemary or sage
7 ounces thick-cut pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 1/2 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
4 cups vegetable broth
8 ounces ditaloni rigati
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Rinse beans, then place with head of garlic and herb sprigs in a large saucepan and cover with water by 3 inches. Soak for 8 hours, or overnight.
Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a low boil; reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, adding water as necessary to keep level 2 to 3 inches above beans, until beans are tender, about 45 minutes or more (cooking time varies depending on age of beans).
Reserving cooking liquid, drain beans through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl; discard garlic and herb sprigs. Separately, set aside beans and their liquid.
Finely chop remaining garlic clove. In a large heavy pot with lid or Dutch oven, combine pancetta and sausage; heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and breaking up sausage into bits with a wooden spoon, until fat is rendered and sausage is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add onion and oil, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add chopped garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Add reserved beans, 2 cups bean cooking liquid, broth and 2 1/4 cups water; bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 25 minutes.
Increase heat to bring soup to a low boil; add pasta and cook until pasta is just al dente (pasta will continue to cook in soup; do not overcook). Season with salt and pepper to taste (soup can be thinned, if desired, using remaining bean cooking liquid). Ladle soup into serving bowls; sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with oil.