Pasta e fagioli translates to "pasta and beans," but that doesn't even begin to describe all the flavorful elements of this humble, comforting dish. Tender pinto beans cook all day, resulting in a rich and creamy broth, and vibrant tomatoes, pancetta, and herbs are added to round out the sophisticated Italian meal.
Here, we use the slow cooker to pull this soup together, making it a hands-off dinner you can eat tonight and enjoy all week.
This slow cooker pasta e fagioli starts with a pound of dried pinto beans (great northern beans work well too) and a flavorful broth. The dish can be made with or without meat, and you'll often see American adaptations made with ground beef. We prefer pancetta — the salty, dry cured Italian ham, which gives the broth a rich savoriness. The beans, pancetta, and other additions cook long and low for 10 to 12 hours until the beans are creamy.
A word about adding the pasta: You'll want to cook the pasta separately before adding it to the slow cooker. If you add dried pasta directly to the slow cooker, they'll soak up all that gorgeous broth before you get to enjoy it. Use ditalini if you can find it, but small shells work in a pinch.
Slow Cooker Pasta e Fagioli
Serves 10 to 12
- For the soup:
dried pinto beans
large red bell pepper, diced
medium onion, diced
pancetta, small dice
water, plus more for soaking
1 (28-ounce) can
Parmesan cheese rind (about 2x3 inches, optional)
dried ditalini pasta or small shells
- For serving:
fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
Shaved Parmesan cheese
Prepare the beans for an overnight soak by pouring them out onto rimmed baking sheet or plate. Pick out any debris or broken beans. Transfer the beans to a strainer and rinse under cool water. Place the rinsed beans in a large bowl or 6-quart or larger slow cooker if you don’t need to use it overnight (eliminating one extra dish to wash). Add about 6 cups of cool water. Cover and soak overnight, 10 to 12 hours.
Drain the soaked beans and wipe out the slow cooker insert (if you used it). Return the beans to the slow cooker. Add the 4 cups of water, the bell pepper, onion, pancetta, tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaves, oregano, basil, dried thyme, and Parmesan rind if using. Give everything a swift, hearty stir to combine. Cover and cook until the beans are tender but not falling apart and the broth around the beans has thickened, 5 to 6 hours on the HIGH setting or 10 to 12 hours on the LOW setting.
When the soup is ready, bring a large saucepan over water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and stir into the soup. Remove the bay leaves and Parmesan rind before serving. Top each bowl with fresh thyme and Parmesan.
Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
Bean and pasta substitutions: Dried great northern beans can be used in place of pinto beans. Substitute small shells for the ditalini, as needed.