Our order would always be the same: 3 cups of water, a $9 Sicilian pizza and a single bowl of Pasta Fagioli soup. I know we were a waiter’s nightmare, but this tradition allowed us to feel fancy. My parents took pride in being able to go out to eat like everyone else, but leave with a $15 bill and some food for leftovers.
My favorite part of the evening was getting the piping hot bowl of Pasta Fagioli delivered to our table (with three spoons), and dipping a piece of crusty bread into the rich and delicious soup. We’d talk about our week and draw pictures on the paper place settings that by this time were already covered with soup and marinara splatter. I would savor each noodle and bean in the soup, forcing myself to eat slowly and memorize the flavors, while minding the very hot pepper in the center of the soup.
This soup is an ode to my humble beginnings and the parents who worked so hard to raise and take care of me. I use tiny rice pasta shells in this recipe to make it gluten-free, but my favorite pasta to use for this soup would be ditalini pasta. To make the soup vegan, just use a vegetable stock or broth and omit any cheese. If you can have dairy, definitely top this soup with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano; you can even throw in a bit of rind into the soup as it’s cooking.
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