By Kaja Korbar Olcott
We’re living in unprecedented times where even a journey out to the grocery store is a dicey escapade. Making the most of what we have at home is the best we can do to take care of ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Most people may be familiar with this dish under the Italian moniker pasta e fagioli, however, this Dalmation version is its own recipe in its own right. Each Croatian family has their own rendition of pašta fažol, and my mother’s interpretation is like a hug in a bowl. I think we could all use a hug these days, wouldn’t you say?
Her pašta fažol is warm, hearty, and just so happens to be vegan/vegetarian. Many versions use pancetta or ham hock, but even the most enthusiastic carnivore won’t be longing for meat in this dish. Plus, meat might not be so easy to come by these days.
For the most part, this stew uses fully shelf-stable ingredients. The only “fresh” items are parsley, garlic, and onion—the latter two some might even consider pantry items, too. Given how few ingredients are included, fresh parsley is a big component of the dish and is preferred over dried parsley. Additionally, canned beans cannot be used as a substitute given that this stew derives most of its flavour and texture from the beans cooking and releasing their starches.
Other than these stipulations, this recipe can be used as a guideline. If you have a smoked or dried meat that you want to add in, go for it. If you prefer smoked or spicy paprika instead of sweet, that would work well too. That said, I’d encourage you to give this purist recipe a try at least once and then see how you can make it your own!
500 g/3 cups dried pinto or light speckled kidney beans
300 g/11 oz. pasta, like lumaconi rigati or large macaroni
1/2 head of garlic, roughly chopped
1 medium-sized onion, finely diced
~20 black peppercorns
6-8 bay leaves
1 heaping tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt separated, additional as needed
1 vegetable bouillon cube
5-6 tablespoons of neutral oil, such as sunflower, additional as needed.
3-4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bunch of fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, stems removed and chopped
1 heaping teaspoon of tomato paste
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
1 scant teaspoon finely ground black pepper
Water as needed
Soak dried beans overnight in cold water. Water should be just over double the volume of the beans.
The next day, dump soaking water and rinse beans. Place in a large pot and cover in water, about 2-3 cms more than the beans. Cover loosely, bring to a boil and cook for 10 mins. Turn off the flame and let the beans sit for half an hour to soak.
Dump the water again, rinse the beans and the pot. Add beans back into the pot and cover with water, roughly double the volume of the beans. Add peppercorns, bay leaves, and one heaping tablespoon salt. Bring water to a boil and cook until beans are half-way cooked through. Depending on how young your beans are, this could be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
Once beans are slightly softened add tomato paste. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
At this point, prepare another pot in which to cook the pasta with the appropriate amount of water and a teaspoon of salt. Once water is boiling, add the pasta.
Heat oil in a small frying pan. Add flour and mix constantly on low until clumps of flour dissolve and the roux just slightly changes color. It should not turn golden.
Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped parsley. If the roux is too thick to stir, add an additional tablespoon or two of oil. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring constantly on low heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 60 seconds or until the garlic releases its fragrance. Add the paprika and stir.
Add a tablespoon or two of cold water to the roux, and then some water in which the beans are cooking. Add the roux to the beans and stir.
When the pasta is nearly al dente, add it to the pot with the beans. Add bouillon cube. Cook for a minute or two and taste for salt and add the ground black pepper. Adjust as needed. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or until the stew thickens slightly. Serve in a bowl topped with fresh parsley and enjoy!
Photos provided by Jerko Steiner