MAKES 2 QUARTS
To me, tiny cuts of macaroni such as gnocchetti, the shell-shaped pasta used in this recipe, will always be synonymous with comfort food. In an Italian kitchen it was the role of soup not only to satisfy but to soothe and heal, especially when one had a cold or an upset stomach. In this filling soup the goal is a balance of flavors, which come together beautifully.
Any type of dried bean can be used, but if you are really pressed for time, canned beans can be substituted if they are drained and rinsed well. Cooking the beans and pasta separately retains the texture of each ingredient.
1 cup dried red kidney beans, picked over
7 cups water
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 cup Gnocchetti, Orzo, or Ditalini pasta
1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, diced
1 large leek (8 ounces), white part only, washed well and thinly sliced
1 pound escarole, washed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
3 cups hot beef broth or veal stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Grinding of black pepper
Rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Soak the beans overnight in 2 cups of the water. Next day, drain the beans, put them in a 2-quart saucepan, cover them with water, bring them to a boil, and continue to let them boil until just al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water, place them in a large bowl, and set aside.
Refill the saucepan with the remaining 5 cups water, bring to a boil, stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt and the gnocchetti and cook over medium-high heat until just al dente. Drain and add the gnocchetti to the kidney beans.
In a soup pot, slowly brown the pancetta over medium heat, stirring often until it softens and begins to render some of its fat. Add the sliced leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. Stir in the escarole, remaining teaspoon salt, celery salt, stock, reserved cooking water, tomato paste, pepper, and cheese rinds. Cover the pot, bring the mixture to a boil, and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Uncover the pot, stir in the kidney beans and gnocchetti, cover the pot, and cook 5 minutes longer before serving.
TIP: Clean escarole well by soaking it in cold water for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse again in a colander. This also works for leeks. Cut them in half lengthwise first.
TIP: When you can no longer grate the remaining Parmigiano cheese near the rind, add the rind to the soup pot along with the stock and water. At the end of the cooking time, remove the rinds, scrape off the softened cheese, discarding the rind, and stir it back into the soup.
NOTE: The soup can be made several days ahead but will thicken as it stands. Reheat it, adding warm water if a thinner consistency is desired.
This recipe is from MANGIA PASTA by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company Inc., in 1998.
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