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How to Make Great Pasta e Fagioli: It’s Really About the Bacon

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I enjoy a good romantic movie as much as the next guy, which is why I watched K-9 today on the American Movie Channel while eating my yummy lunch of instant noodles. (Yeah, the pantry’s still pretty full from last month.) I did just fine until the dog got shot. I don’t care that much for German Shepherds; we’re partial to Golden Retrievers at the White House. Still, that scene always makes me break down and blubber like a wounded baby shed a small tear. That scene where Belushi thinks the dog has died, and he’s dumping all his angst while the dog plays possum and listens in, is truly Academy Award level stuff. (For a dog movie, I mean.) I would have watched the sequel, K-911, but I was too overcome with emotions from the previous flick had too much to do; I’ll save it for later. (VCR, dontcha know.)

All that romance and mushy stuff got me thinking about food. (Most things get me thinking about food.) Belushi, he’s Italian, right? So I wondered if he’s a fan of Pasta e Fagioli or not. I mean, I’m sure he needs regular infusions of red gravy to continue living. But what about beans? That’s the $64,000 question. And does he like spicy Italian dishes, I wonder?

After all that deep thinking, I decided it really didn’t matter. If he does, he does. And if he doesn’t, well, he’s rich enough to ignore the Chile Underground without any fear of reprisals a big boy, he can do what he wants. That motivated me to post my version of this great Italian dish, with chiles and beans:

  • Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans, although it’s really all about the chiles and bacon)

Dried cranberry beans seem to give the best flavor to this dish, for some reason. You can use dried pinto beans instead, and cook them pretty much the same way as you would the cranberry beans. Or you can use canned pintos. Whichever you use will be fine; just be sure to drain and rinse the canned ones. I think you could even make this dish with red kidney beans, but I wouldn’t go that far out; I’m not into fusion dishes that much.

Little Ears

Orecchiette pasta is pretty much a requirement for this dish. The name means “little ears” and you can tell from the picture that’s what they resemble. Other pasta will work, of course! Somehow it’s just not the same, though. (I wouldn’t use strozzapreti if you’re having the padre over for dinner either, but that’s just me.) Be sure the pasta is lightly al dente; overcooked pasta will leave the whole dish limp and, well, not exactly Good Eats.

Remember, you’re not really supposed to eat the fried pancetta. I mean, don’t eat it all before you finish putting the dish together! I know it’s hard, but you have to have some focus and discipline here. Or do what I do, fry a whole pound and save a little for the pasta dish. You can use almost any fresh, red chiles in this recipe.

I can’t purchase fresh peperoncini locally, but I find red Serrano or Fresno chiles work just fine; the former a bit more zesty than the latter. You can use some dried red pepper flakes (the kind you shake on pizza) instead, provided you use enough. Just remember, it’s easy to overshoot the ramp on heat with pepper flakes! You want it zesty and pungent, not sinus-destroying. (Okay, maybe you like it that hot; I don’t.)

Whatever you do, don’t tell anybody it’s got fried pancetta in it, or they’ll be over early to try to grab some, and then the whole thing just won’t work…

Enjoy the (Spicy Fagioli) Heat!

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