This rustic recipe is one of my all-time favourites. All over Italy, this dish of pasta and beans is regularly served at home, with each family having its personal adaptations. As a humble dish it is not typically served at restaurants, perhaps only at trattorie, smaller diners which serve home-cooked dishes.
This recipe can be made vegetarian by skipping the skin of guanciale/pancetta, and further adjusted to vegan by using semola (non-egg) pasta. The vegan version is the most popular in the South of Italy. You may also cook this bean “soup” without pasta, but remember to allow the pot to rest for at least 0.5 to 1 hour at the end before serving.
10 mins of preparation, 1.5 hours of slow cooking, 1 hour of resting
This recipe was prepared for a dinner of 4 persons.
Chop carrots and celeries into big chunks, and grind in a food processor. Set aside.
On medium flame, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, sautee the chopped carrots and celeries for 5 minutes until they sweat. They “sweat” when you see the water evaporating.It is also very important that you do not add any salt at this point.
Add the beans and allow to sautee for 2 minutes.
Add cold water up to 3 or 4 fingers deep and cover the pot. Once the water comes to a boil, lower the flame to the lowest setting and allow to simmer for 1 hour. As the pot simmers, peel and cut your potatoes.
Add the chinese cabbage and potato chunks and cook for another 0.5 hour, or until the beans are the softness of your liking.
Increase the flame to medium and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and a bit of hot water if the soup is too thick until it cooks. Our maltagliati is homemade and takes only 3 minutes to cook.
After your pasta has cooked, switch off the flame. Add salt to taste and allow to rest for an hour for the flavours to soak in the soup before serving.
Where we bought our ingredients in Singapore:
Borlotti beans – Tiong Bahru Market
Guanciale – Da Paolo, or Huber’s
The fresh borlotti beans are sold at the “wet market” with their pods, which are pink. To obtain the beans, pinch off one tip and apply some pressure to the edge, and slide your fingers down to open the pod.
At the supermarket, you will also be able to find canned borlotti beans, but fresh ingredients taste the best.
I am curious how they are used in the local cuisines but unfortunately my wife is very averse to beans and legumes in general.
The chinese cabbage is softer in texture and flavour. It will dissolve into the sauce.
You may also use other types of cabbage such as the round cabbage or “black” cabbage, if you prefer stronger flavours. As the leaves are tougher than the chinese cabbage, cook them earlier together with the beans, instead of adding them with the potatoes.
We used maltagliati, which was the remnant pieces of the homemade Fettuccine that we stored in the freezer.
We had the skin of guanciale which we trimmed off while making pasta all’Amatriciana. You may also use the skin of pancetta. This bit will add flavour to your oil base and becomes soft as it cooks.
Salt and Beans
When you cook beans or legumes (such as chickpeas and lentils), do not add any salt until the end of the cooking. Otherwise, their skin hardens up and their insides do not cook.