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PCF Recipe Club: Quarantine Pasta

April 22, 2020
quarantine pasta

Pasta e fagioli is a timeless and easy meal that travelled to the United States from Italy. Often referred to as pasta fazool in America, the name comes from the Neopolitan dialect for beans, fasule. It is a hearty dish that was served all throughout Italy, and is well-known for its simple ingredients that can be adapted to what’s readily available in the garden or region. People typically prepared pasta e fagioli in huge servings to feed families and workers who helped tend to land and farms.

Now, if you’ve read our nutrition guide, you’ll know pasta isn’t at the top of our list for favorite meals. It’s over-processed, calorie-dense, and low in nutrients. White pasta, particularly, is low in fiber.

So, why a pasta recipe? These days, many people, especially those who are older or have compromised immune systems, are staying home as much as possible. This month we’ve adapted this recipe to use only shelf-stable items that you can find in your pantry. Especially now, pasta could be the thing that keeps you from having to make an extra trip to the grocery store. So, as the Italians say, “È così!” – it is what it is. We can all do our best with the resources we have.

However, if you do have access to more diverse food selection, here are some suggestions for how you could help bolster the nutrition of this basic but hearty dish:

  • Fresh veggies, if available:
    • Kale: High in antioxidants (including vitamins A and C) and iron.
    • Celery: Adds fiber and antioxidants.
    • Carrots: A well-known source of beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A. Contains anthocyanins and polyacetylenes (compounds that are currently being studied for their anti-inflammatory potential).
    • Fresh Onions and Garlic: Skip the dry spices to add a dose of flavonoids and anthocyanins, which can have anti-inflammation properties.
    • Fresh Tomatoes: Tomatoes are a fantastic source of vitamins A and C as well as the antioxidant lycopene. Tomatoes have also been proposed as playing a role in preventing prostate cancer.
  • Canned veggies: Green beans may be your best choice, adding fiber and a smattering of vitamins and minerals. Check the label for reduced sodium or “no salt added” to avoid hidden sodium.
  • Beans: Toss in an extra can of beans to add dietary fiber, protein, iron, and flavonoids (antioxidants). Again—look for 50% reduced sodium or no-salt-added if you’re watching your salt intake.
  • Meat: If you feel more satisfied having some meat with dinner, you can add a half-pound of ground beef or turkey, or even a can of minced clams. Any of these additions will boost the protein in this dish. There’s less fat in ground turkey, but a bit less flavor (for some). The fat content is what gives ground beef its flavor and juiciness. Beef is high in iron. Clams will give you omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. If you’ve read our wellness guide, you’ll recall that we emphasize plant-based foods over animal products, which cause chronic inflammation. So, consider the meat more like a condiment: a flavor-add rather than the focus of this meal.

What about the pasta itself? Pasta comes in a dizzying number of varieties. Remember—white pasta is white pasta, regardless of the shape. Whole wheat, whole grain, or colorful “vegetable-based” pastas may seem like appealing options….but sometimes these options are just for optics. As always, check the label: it will tell you the true story. If a pasta contains a significant amount of fiber beyond white pasta, it’s probably made with whole grains. Vegetable pasta, however, rarely confers any of the nutritional value of vegetables onto the pasta itself.  Bean-based pastas made from lentils or chickpeas can contain twice as much protein and four times the amount of fiber as regular pasta.

Wishing you a comforting, hearty, and healthy meal during these challenging times.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta with Beans)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic and/or onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil, parsley and/or oregano
  • 1 can (15 oz) white beans (or any bean available), drained
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 4 oz dry pasta, any shape
  • 1 bay leaf (for the soup phase)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot, sauté dried spices in olive oil over medium heat for about a minute, stirring constantly. Add beans and use a fork to roughly crush the beans together with the spices and oil. Add broth, tomatoes, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, covered. Add dried pasta and bring back to a low boil, uncovered, for 7-10 more minutes until pasta is cooked but still firm. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Yield: 4 servings