Of all the Italian dishes I was taught to make, pasta fagioli (also known as pasta fazool) a hearty soup with vegetables, sausage or pancetta, beans and pasta, will always be one of my favorite soup recipes.
Adding common stinging nettles instead of the lacinato kale I was taught to use is a great way to sneak in some of your foraged greens.
Adding nettles to soup is also traditional in Italy, where they're known as ortiche, and quick google of "zuppa de ortiche" will show you a whole world of Italian cuisine you never knew. If you're one of the people who enjoy wood nettles as I do, you can use those too.
At the first restaurant I was taught to make it at, a now closed spot in St. Paul called il Vesco Vino, it was on the menu from the first day I started until the day we closed it. In fact, it was the only soup on the menu, which should tell you something about how popular it was. There's something really comforting about a bowl of soup with some crusty bread and grated cheese.
Pasta fagioli (literally pasta and beans) is a rich, comfort food soup along the lines of minestrone, but without a wide array of vegetables. All we used to make it at the restaurant was simple mirepoix, extra sausage leftover from making pizzas and pastas, white beans, and some lacinato kale.
Here I do the same, using homemade lamb sausage and stinging nettles. Feel free to improvise with whatever you have on hand.
Since pesto is a fantastic garnish to pasta fagioli, I add some of my pumpkinseed-nettle pesto and a little parmesan to finish. It's a great, filling soup for a cold day, especially good in the winter if you have some blanched nettles in the freezer, like I did when I made this version.
Pasta shapes to use
You want a small pasta for this recipe. Here's a few examples.
- Small shells
- Acini di pepe
Authentic Pasta Fagioli Soup with Sausage and Pesto
- 1.5 cup cannellini beans cooked (this is one 15.5 oz can)
- 1 cup each mirepoix
- 1 can whole peeled tomatoes with juice
- 6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 5 oz sausage link
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup blanched or steamed nettles about 3-4 oz, roughly chopped
- 1 cup small pasta, cooked such as shells, macaroni, or rings
- Grated parmesan cheese, to taste
- Nettle pesto, about 1 tablespoon per person
- Extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
- 1 tiny pinch red pepper flakes
- Italian bread slices preferably grilled
- Remove the tomatoes from the can, squeeze them over a bowl in the sink to remove seeds, then finely chop and reserve with their juice.
- In a dutch oven or other wide pot, sweat the sausage in the oil, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until cooked through.
- Add the garlic, carrot, onion and celery and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Add the tomatoes and their juice, along with the stock, oregano and beans and bring to a simmer.
- Cook for 30 minutes, covered, on low heat. Add the nettles and cook for a few minutes more, or until tender. Add the pasta to the soup and heat through.
- Double check the seasoning for salt and pepper, adjust as needed, then serve with a dollop of the nettle pesto, a thread of extra virgin olive oil, and grated parmesan.