Don’t you hate when you have almost all of the ingredients for something you want to make but are missing like 2 or 3 of the most important ones? I had this happen recently when I wanted to make Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Bean Soup) but I was missing the Pancetta and the Cannellini beans. I was in a bit of a pickle until I realized I had regular bacon and pinto beans. Then I had the idea–why not make a Southwest version of the classic Italian Pasta e Fagioli (that’s Fajh-oh-lee) soup? Well, this is not exactly your grandmother’s pasta bean soup but it has a lot of the same elements of the traditional recipe. It’s made with almost exactly the same format as my recipe found here. There are a few choice differences though as the flavor of the bacon provides a smokier flavor than the pancetta. Instead of rosemary I used fresh sage and dried basil for the herbs. Instead of Ditalini pasta I opted for Gemelli since I had some of that laying around. It worked out nicely!
It’s funny how just a few ingredient changes transformed the recipe into something totally different. I still went with parmesan cheese as the garnish but you could probably use a white cheddar instead. I added about the same amount of red pepper to the recipe but adding another 1/2 teaspoon would really give this an extra oomph of heat. I loved the way these small changes did so much to change the recipe and it’s become one of my regular favorites!
Southwest Pasta Bean Soup
- 8 slices bacon diced
- 1 large yellow onion chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper diced
- 4 celery diced
- 1 tbsp olive oil optional
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 6 oz. tomato paste
- 15 oz. tomato sauce
- 4 (15 oz. cans) pinto beans washed and drained
- 1 (15 oz. can) pinto beans drained and pureed/mashed
- 2 tbsp fresh sage minced
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- 11 or 12 cups Chicken Stock depending on desired consistency
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 8 servings Gemelli or Ditalini pasta
- Grated Parmesan for garnish
- salt and pepper to taste
In a large stock pot, cook the chopped bacon on medium high heat until the fat has rendered and the bacon is brown and crispy, about 7 minutes. Remove the grease at this point and add a tablespoon of olive oil if desired. You can leave the fat in the pot and use it to cook the vegetables (recommended!).
Add the onion, celery and bell pepper. Cook covered until soft, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the garlic, red pepper flakes, sage, basil, and tomato paste. Cook 1 minute until fragrant.
Mash one can of the pinto beans to make a puree either by hand or in a food processor (I tend to just mash by hand to save on clean up). Stir into the vegetable bacon mixture.
Add the tomato sauce, pinto beans, lemon zest and chicken stock.
Bring to a low simmer and cook over the stove with the cover cracked about 3-4 hours. If you have a big enough slow cooker (at least 6 qt.) you can transfer it now and cook for 8 hours on low, or 4-5 on high.
During the last 10 minutes of cooking, cook the pasta on the stove as directed on the package. Transfer a serving of cooked pasta into each bowl and ladle the soup over the noodles. Stir together and garnish with grated parmesan and enjoy!