Macaroni & Bean Soup
I warned you that things would get repetitive around here. And here we go again, another comforting, tomato-cheese-pasta dish that I would happily eat every day.
Before I go on, I just want to put in a disclaimer (law school is teaching me something, perhaps?): this is not your classic pasta e fagioli and I will not purport to have recreate a classic of Italian home cooking. This, my friends, is the closest version I’ve found to my all time favorite kind of Progresso soup that my parents have kept (and still keep) stocked in the pantry ever since forever: Macaroni & Bean.
My siblings were Chickarina fans, but me? I was always and only about the Macaroni & Bean. It was a love I shared with my best friend when we were 7 or 8. It, along with goldfish, tuna sandwiches, ice cream and cookies out of her mother’s cookie jar, was just about all we knew how to feed ourselves. I even had a preferred method of consumption: first I would eat the celery and beans, saving the pasta for last when I would slurp it all up, swallowing it whole. Back then, I could split a can. Nowadays, I wouldn’t be so generous.
I even once shared a romantic, candlelit meal on the floor of my 15 sq ft dorm room (we used a suitcase as a table) consisting entirely of Progresso Macaroni & Bean Soup. The romance didn’t last but my love for the soup is stronger than ever.
Rest assured, I would have never gone to the trouble of making my own Macaroni & Bean soup when I already know the original is as good as it gets. But, as with so, so many things, there is no Progresso soup in Australia. I contemplated asking my mom to send me a can or two, but couldn’t bring myself to be so childish and selfish. The shipping alone would cost as much as 10 cans of soup, and who knows? One of the Australian customs officials may have once tried Progresso soup on a brief trip to civilization, and would greedily quarantine my deliciousness all for himself. Besides, it would take at least 8 or 9 days for a package of soup to arrive. And I couldn’t wait that long.
After some interneting revealed nothing (besides the fact that you can buy an entire case of Macaroni & Bean soup, which, if I were you, and you’re in the States, I would have done yesterday and also revealed the ingredients in the original), I started looking for recipes and settled on the one that looked closest to the real thing.
MACARONI & BEAN SOUP
This is as close as I think you can get to the wonder of Progresso’s Macaroni & Bean soup without the can. I kind of based the recipe on this recipe from Recipe D’Eva, but adjusted it to reach optimal Progressoness. A lovely feature of the Progresso version is the chunks of mushy celery; I didn’t have any celery and none of my neighborhood shops did either so we did without. Also, Progresso uses Great Northern beans but – sigh – I couldn’t find any in this cultural wasteland known as Australia. Feel free to use cannellini if you’ve already got them. Also! Read my nota bene at the end of the recipe if you’re planning to make this ahead of time.
Serves 3 (Francesco, me and the tapeworm)
2 stalks of celery, chopped roughly
1/2 carrot, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups passata (tomato puree)
1 1/2 cup chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 sprig rosemary
4 basil leaves, ripped
3/4 cup (150 grams) small pasta (ditali would be perfect)
1/2 cup milk (or more)
1 can (15 ounces/2 scant cups) Great Northern beans (or cannellini)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano or pecorino romano cheese
In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute celery, onion and garlic in a good splash of olive oil over medium heat until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in broth, tomato sauce, about 1/4 of the grated cheese, and the rosemary and basil. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. It’s okay if the broth looks too watery…once you start cooking the pasta in the soup, it will thicken considerably.
After 20 minutes or so, turn up the heat to a boil, then add the pasta (I do about 1 small handful per person) and cook, stirring constantly to avoid sticking, for 10 minutes or until pasta is tender. Test the pasta as you go; it will take longer than the time stated on the pasta box. If the pasta seems to be soaking up too much liquid and it’s becoming more like a soupy pasta rather than soup, add enough milk to bring it to your desired consistency. Remember, the pasta will continue soaking up liquid as it cooks.
Once the pasta is al dente, add the undrained beans, mix well and after a minute turn off the heat. Serve with remaining grated cheese sprinkled on top and crusty bread to mop it all up.
Nota bene: the pasta will continue to soak up the broth like whoa, so don’t make this ahead unless you want totally overcooked pasta and no broth to speak of. If you do need/want to make it ahead, just don’t add the pasta; when you’re ready to serve, bring the soup to a boil, add the pasta and a bit of extra liquid as necessary. Remember: the pasta will soak up the broth even after you’ve turned off the heat! I learned this the hard way.