Summer wouldn’t be summer without fresh favas and romanos, but now is when legumes in their dried form come into their own. Some of the best cold-weather eating, after all, involves beans: cassoulet, minestrone, ribollita, chili, and pasta e fagioli (or pasta fazool, depending on where you’re from). Bean snobs—yes, they exist—swear by the heirloom varieties from California’s boutique beanery Rancho Gordo. (Lincoln Ristorante’s Jonathan Benno, for one, is a fan.) Not only are these superbeans in their countless permutations beautiful to look at, they’re “fresher”: i.e., they’re harvested, dried, and sold within a year, so they’re likely to be firmer and more flavorful than the average bean.
Jonathan Benno’s Pasta e Fagioli
2 cups dried heirloom beans (cannellini or borlotti, at Formaggio Kitchen at Essex Market)
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock
1 cup Parmesan rinds
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh sage
5 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. crushed-red-pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups ditalini or tubetti pasta, cooked
2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
4 tbs. freshly grated Parmesan
(1) In a bowl, cover the beans with about 2 inches of cold water. Soak the beans in the refrigerator for 2 days and (2) drain. Place 6 to 8 cups of chicken stock (or enough to cover the beans by about 1 inch), Parmesan rinds, and all fresh herbs and bay leaves in a pot. Bring to a simmer, but do not boil. Let the stock simmer for 1 hour. Strain the herbs and the Parmesan rinds. Add dried oregano and crushed-red-pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Place the beans in the stock, and gently simmer until the beans are creamy in the center (do not boil or allow the skins of the beans to burst), approximately 2 to 3 hours. (Meanwhile, heat the remaining stock in a saucepan, and if the liquid in the pot starts to get low, add more hot stock.) When the beans are tender, add the pasta. Season to taste. Place the soup in a serving bowl. (3) Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, pepper, and Parmesan. Serves 4 to 6. Adapted from Jonathan Benno.
This article originally appeared in the February 18, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.