In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve fallen in love with Judith Barrett’s cookbook Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy. If I could take a week off and cook my way through the book from cover to cover, I would.

Today’s recipe is a dish that I’ve wanted to try for many years. I’d heard about pasta with beans long before I bought Barrett’s cookbook. Now I’m not talking about the familiar pasta e fagioli, which tends to be a soupier dish. I’m talking about pasta with a sauce made of beans. This type of dish is not common in the regions of Italy where my parents are from, but Barrett includes a recipe in her book for pasta in a red bean sauce and I just couldn’t resist.

As with almost all the recipes in the book this one begins with soaking beans overnight. I used red kidney beans as the recipe instructed but I’m sure you could try this with a variety of different beans. After their overnight soak, I simmered the beans for about two hours with some bay leaves and some garlic cloves. Barrett explains in her recipe that the beans should almost be falling apart. This will help create a creamier sauce for the pasta.

I set the beans aside and went ahead with the rest of the recipe. I sauteed pancetta, onion and celery in olive oil while I cooked my pasta. The recipe calls for tagliatelle but I had penne on hand and decided to use those. Once the pancetta was browned and the onion and celery had softened, I drained the beans and added them to the sauce. I flavoured the sauce with pepper flakes and salt. Once the pasta was cooked, I added it to the sauce along with some parsley and lots of Parmigiano Reggiano.

It was delicious! The beans broke down enough to create a thick, creamy coating for the penne and the pancetta added a lovely flavour to the pasta as well. This recipe is definitely a keeper!


Pasta with Red Bean Sauce
Adapted from Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy by Judith Barrett.

Note: This recipe will make 4 servings.

1/2 cup red kidney beans, soaked overnight (at least 8 hours)
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
4 slices pancetta, about a 1/4 inch thick, cut into tiny pieces
1/2 red onion, chopped finely
1 celery stalk, chopped finely
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
penne (or the pasta of your choice)
a few tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano
chopped parsely (optional)

After having soaked the beans overnight or for at least 8 hours, place the beans in a large pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Add the bay leaves and the garlic cloves.

Bring the beans to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to medium-low, keeping the beans at a simmer.

Simmer for an hour and a half, stirring frequently.

Once the time is up, turn the heat off and set the beans aside. Leave them in the water with the lid on.

Set a large pot of water to boil for your pasta. While you wait for the water to boil, prepare the rest of the sauce by heating the olive oil in a large, wide saucepan.

Once the oil is hot, lower the heat to medium and add the pancetta, onion and celery, stirring often. Be sure not to burn the mixture. Cook until the pancetta is browned and the onion and celery have softened. This should take between 15 and 20 minutes.

Drain the beans and add them to the pancetta mixture. Discard the bay leaves but add the garlic cloves to the mixture as well. Mash them up so that they flavour the sauce. Add the red pepper flakes and salt to taste. Cook for 5 minutes and then turn the heat off while you cook your pasta.

Once the water for the pasta has boiled, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the bean and pancetta mixture. Turn the heat on low as you combine the pasta with the sauce. Add the parsley and the Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.