Sicilian Pasta e Fagioli, also known as pasta and beans, is a simple and hearty classic Italian dish. This recipe was mid century crooner Dean Martin's favorite, just as his mother Angela prepared it.
"When the stars make you drool just like a pasta e fasul, that's amore..." If you love all things mid century like I do, then you've probably listened to this famous Dean Martin song a thousand times. But according to Deana Martin, daughter of Dean Martin, those words rang true for him. His mother's recipe for this traditional Italian soup was one of Dean's favorite meals.
There are many ways to reference this dish, but regardless of how it is spelled, they all mean the same thing. Here are the most popular spellings: pasta fazool, pasta fasul, pasta e fasule, pasta e fagioli, and pasta e fasoi. These variations are attributed to regional differences (and the recipe varies regionally as well), but they all refer to an Italian soup that was a depression era comfort food.
What Exactly is Pasta Fagioli?
Pasta fagioli is an Italian soup recipe often referred to as a peasant dish due to its inexpensive and basic ingredients. It's basically a bean soup (often referred to as pasta e fagioli soup) containing whole beans, tubetini pasta (or a similar small pasta shape), some chopped onion, a pinch of salt, pepper and several cups of water.
- extra virgin olive oil
- medium onion
- cannellini beans
- tubetini pasta
- 6 cups water
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- parmesan cheese or pecorino romano
How to Make Dean Martin's Favorite Pasta Fagioli
This is an easy recipe with a total cook time of about 2 hours.
Step 1: Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add chopped onion and sauté for 1 minute.
Step 2: Add the water, drained beans, kosher salt, black pepper and cinnamon. Cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat, and keep liquid at a low boil for 15 minutes. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1-½ hours.
Step 3: Add the pasta to the soup pot. You want al dente pasta, so for the best result cook for the amount of time specified on the package. (While the pasta cooks, you can chop some fresh parsley as an optional garnish, if you like.) At the end of the recommended cook time, lift some pasta out of the cooking liquid with a slotted spoon and taste it to make sure it's ready.
When the pasta is cooked to your liking, serve in bowls with grated parmesan on top, and a little chopped Italian parsley for garnish if you'd like. A crusty loaf of garlic bread is a delicious complement on the side!
Expert Tips to Make the Best Soup
- Add the correct amount of dry pasta -- I was tempted to add more because the first time I made it, it looked like it wouldn't make enough. But it expands while it cooks, and you'll be surprised how much cooked pasta you end up with!
- You can double or triple the recipe if you're feeding a crowd. Simply use a huge pot or large pan, a large onion, and double or triple the rest of the ingredients. (You can never have too much pasta!)
- Reheat leftovers by adding a little cold water or chicken broth to the pot, since the soup has probably thickened. This soup has great flavor the next day!
Frequently Asked Questions
Tubetini (or tubettini) pasta is a short, tube shaped pasta. If your grocery store doesn't carry it, tubetti is a similar short pasta that makes a good substitute. Another good substitute that's very close is ditalini pasta.
Sure, borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, are a good substitute for cannellini beans. Cannellinis are large white beans, and they're related to red kidney beans. Borlottis are a speckled bean with a slightly nutty flavor. In a pinch you can use great northern beans, but these are softer, creamy beans and may break up in the soup during cooking. Make sure you use a wooden spoon to keep from crushing them when you stir.
Yes, you can change a few things up to make it a little different. I suggest trying it Dean's way first, then next time experiment with variations. Here are some ideas you might want to try:
Substitute chicken stock for the water in this recipe. Or use ½ water ½ chicken stock.
Add 3-4 garlic cloves when you sauté the onions.
Add ½ lb. of ground beef, ground turkey, or mild Italian sausage with the onions and cook until browned.
Drop a bay leaf in the soup pot while it's cooking. (Don't forget to remove it at the end -- you shouldn't eat bay leaves!)
Add one of the following to the soup pot: 15 oz can of tomato sauce, a 6 oz. can of tomato paste, or a 14 oz. can of san marzano tomatoes.
Sauté a chopped celery stalk and chopped carrot with the chopped onion.
Drop a ham bone in to cook with the soup (that's the only thing I'd do.)
Add a teaspoon of italian seasoning, fresh rosemary, oregano, or a pinch of red pepper flakes to the pot while the soup is cooking.
Try Some Other Recipes
We hope Dean Martin's favorite pasta e fagioli recipe is one of those Italian dishes that you'll return to again and again. It's definitely not one you'll find at olive garden! Thank you for visiting, and buon appetito!
Have a comment or a vintage recipe you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you! Please rate, comment, or send me an email at [email protected]!
Dean Martin's Favorite Pasta Fagioli Soup Recipe
- 2 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 15 oz cans cannellini beans
- 6 cups water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 8 oz tubetini pasta
- ¼ cup parmesan or romano cheese grated
- In a large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onion and cook for about 1 minute.
- Drain beans and add to pot with water; stir to mix.
- Add salt, pepper and cinnamon.
- Cover pot, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil on a low-boil for 15 minutes, then turn down to medium-low heat and simmer on a low simmer for 90 minutes.
- Add pasta to soup pot and cook to al dente according to package directions.
- When pasta is ready, remove soup from heat and serve with grated parmesan on top. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley if desired.