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Monday, May 26, 2014

Gluten Free Pasta E Fagioli

In one year, I will be traveling to Italy to celebrate my 25th anniversary.  To get in the mood (really, who needs to be in the mood to go to Italy, but work with me here…), I thought it would be fun to cook three meals, one for each of the three cities we will be visiting.

The first city we will be visiting is Venice.  According to the website one of the top Venetian dishes is Pasta e Fasioi, more commonly known as Pasta e Fagioli.

Now, food-wise, grilling is a staple during the Memorial Day Weekend.  That being said, it still is…cold here in Boston.  I mean, even today it is “supposedly” 76 degrees outside, but it is very windy and cloudy, and kinda cold to sit outside with a good book.  So, a soup seemed like a good thing to have.

Now, I have never cooked Pasta e Fagioli, and haven’t had it since I went gluten free, so I couldn’t make up my own recipe.  I read a few different things about Pasta e Fagioli, and the same site I mentioned above says it is more like a creamy pudding than a soup.  I could not find a recipe that gave that impression, but I did find a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis that had some of the mixture pureed and put back in the soup, so I felt this was as close as I was going to get.

The first decision I had to make was about the choice of ham.  The recipe calls for pancetta.  Pancetta has roughly 360 calories for three ounces.  I wanted to cut the fat and the calories, so I chose to substitute prosciutto, which has roughly half the fat. 

The second decision was whether or not to use real butter or my butter/oil product.  I decided to use real butter, as I was saving calories by going with the prosciutto.  I also decided to use whipped butter.  Because it is whipped, it has more air in it.  Because there is air in it, a tablespoon of whipped butter has fewer calories than a tablespoon of whipped butter.  I thought this was a fair tradeoff.

Now, the recipe calls for adding a chopped onion, garlic, and the pancetta into a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter.  However, I discovered from my readings that prosciutto gets chewy if cooked too long.  So I did not add it until just before I added 5 ¾ cups of low sodium chicken stock, 29 ounces of red kidney beans that had been rinsed and drained, and a sachet that included rosemary, thyme, and a bay leaf.  I then covered it, brought it to a boil, and reduced the heat to a simmer.  After ten minutes, I took out one cup of the bean mixture and put it in a blender.

This was the first time I ever had to blend something that was a hot liquid, and watching cooking shows all these years obviously taught me that you need to be careful when blending a hot liquid, and that it can expand.  There was also a warning about it in the recipe, and I imagine this is a warning that is in every recipe they have that uses this technique.  I found this YouTube video showing the proper technique.

Meanwhile, while I was waiting for the blender mixture to cool down before blending, I added the gluten free macaroni.  I was quite pleased I was able to find this, and the taste was quite good.

I then blended the bean mixture and, once the macaroni was cooked, added it to the soup.  Now, I have to be honest here, while this may have made the soup creamier, it gave it kind of an…unattractive color.  It kinda sorta looked like baby food.  I was a little disappointed, because we do eat with our eyes.  In any case, I then seasoned with pepper and added a pinch of crushed red pepper for just bit of heat.

To serve, I ladled the soup into a bowl and sprinkled some Pecorino Romano on top, and then added some olive oil to finish it.  I added a small sprig of rosemary for garnish.

Despite the fact I didn’t think it looked all that good, and because of the blended bean mixture, I have to say it tasted quite good, and it did have something of a creamy taste to it.  The prosciutto added a good bit of salt.  I think if I were to make it again, I would use some sort of white bean, in an effort to make the dish more attractive.

As for calories, one bowl had 424 calories, which is pretty good, but had 18 grams of fat, about 41 percent.  This would have been less if I chose not to add the cheese and the olive oil at the end.

Next stop:  Florence!


  1. This is terrific---here you are thinking like a Chef and incorporating techniques, flavors, decisions about substitutions, using new ingredients, and of course my favorite---presentation! Good going!
    It sounds like you have a wonderful trip in your future and I love the way you are getting inspired by it.
    Here is something to think about: Rather than go for the straight-on dishes of the cities or regions you will visit, why not look to a specific ingredient of that region and then do your own gluten-free thing with it? For mention that you will tackle Florence next. Florence is famous for why not do something amazing with fennel? As a starting point, it's a gluten free ingredient (as opposed to Pasta E Fagioli which by it's name is normally a gluten-full meal!). I know that one of your goals is to take "regular" dishes and create gluten-free versions.....but because fresh ingredients are so abundant in Italy, you may want to take advantage of this!
    Question: Are you planning on staying gluten-free in Italy? I'm assuming so. s it easy to get gluten-free pasta in Italy? I'm assuming it may be these days...
    Keep on prepping for this great trip, and Keep on cooking!

  2. That's a great idea! Thanks!