Pasta and Borlotti Bean Stew
Soak the beans for 12 – 15 hours, rinse and drain. Place the beans in a saucepan with plenty of cold water, one garlic clove, the bay leaf and slowly bring to the boil. Do not add salt as it will harden the beans’ shell, which might cause them to split. Cover and simmer gently until tender, 1 – 1 ½ hours. The cooking time depends on how long they have been soaked and how old they are; old beans require longer cooking. (They can also be cooked in a pressure cooker to reduce the time, which is usually about 35 minutes.) Skim off any foam that forms on the surface in the early stages. If you need to add some water to the beans it must be boiling hot. When the beans have been cooking for about 45 minutes, dice the shallot, celery and carrot and gently sauté them with the remaining garlic clove in 1 ½ tablespoons of oil in a large heavy-bottomed casserole or saucepan for about 5 minutes, until lightly coloured. Add the herbs and a ladleful of the water from the beans, turn down the heat and continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the beans are not ready at this point, cover the vegetable mixture with a lid and turn off the heat. Drain the beans, reserving the water, discard the bay leaf and the garlic clove. Place half the beans in a jug with a ladleful of the bean cooking water and blend with an immersion blender until smooth, then set aside. Remove the garlic clove from the vegetable mixture, then add the whole beans with ½ teaspoon of salt and fry for a few minutes while stirring to flavour the beans. Stir in the pureed beans, the tomato paste and 400 ml (1 3/5 cup) of the reserved cooking water, raise the heat and when the water boils add the pasta. Stir and add more of the cooking water if needed. The stew should be quite liquid as it tends to thicken towards the end of the cooking time. Season with salt and pepper. Check cooking time of the pasta on the packet and switch off the heat a couple of minutes beforehand, while the pasta is still very al dente. Cover with a lid and let the stew stand for 5 – 10 minutes before serving. Transfer to a serving terrine or individual bowls, drizzle with a good-quality olive oil and serve with the parmesan cheese separately.
There are as many different recipes for this traditional Italian dish as there are families in Italy. For some it is a stew, for others a soup, or just pasta with a fairly dry bean sauce, so feel free to experiment. However, if you use *canned beans for convenience, remember that these are already overcooked and fairly tasteless, so replace the cooking water of the beans in the recipe with a litre of vegetable or chicken stock.