Wednesday, March 13, 2013

CopyCat Recipe: Olive Garden's Pasta e Fagioli

Like you, I've seen a lot of copycat recipes on various recipe sites, Pinterest (follow me, by the way!) and so on.  I've never bothered to try many of them.  For one, you can often go directly to your favorite restaurant's website and get the recipe straight from them!

There are probably lots of others, but those were three I was curious enough about their recipes to locate.

In any event, if you go to Olive Garden's free recipe site, you will not find a recipe for their pasta e fagioli.  Pasta e fagioli (pronounced pasta fazool) is a classic Italian soup.  It is, to my mind, minestrone with pasta.  Literally translated, it means pasta with beans.  Every cook makes it differently, uses different beans or bean blends, puts some secret ingredient in and so on.  It's a versatile recipe that you can adjust to your own tastes.

I've never been a big fan of Olive Garden.  I always felt that their food was mediocre.  It bears no resemblance whatsoever to real Italian food which can be obtained at many small, family-owned restaurants scattered in mid-sized cities throughout the country.  One of my favorites is a place called Scotty's Italian Restaurant on 9th Street and Vine (I believe) in Cincinnati, OH.  It was about the only redeeming thing I found in Cincinnati, OH.  But I digress.

Back to Olive Garden.  Never a big fan. But I went there for lunch once many, many moons ago and remember that their soup and salad was pretty darn good.  The soup I had was pasta e fagioli.  So when I saw a copycat recipe, I decided to give it a try.  I'm glad I did.

However, it is pretty pedestrian as listed.  You may prefer it this way.  I think it pretty well mirrors Olive Garden's actual recipe.  This is a recipe you need to toy with.  Tinker with.  Try a major overhaul once in a while.  But for starters, here's the bones you'll get to work with.

Olive Garden's Copycat Pasta e Fagioli

1 lb. ground chuck/turkey/beef
1 small onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 15 oz cans of Hunts Fire-Roasted Tomatoes (to me, this is vital that they be "fire roasted)
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce (any brand, plain)
1 Tablespoon vinegar (recipe calls for white, I use apple cider vinegar because white vinegar is for cleaning, people)
2 cups beef broth
1 14 oz. can of red beans (I use red kidney beans)
1 14 oz. can of white beans (I use northern or canneli beans)
1.5 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 lb. Digitali pasta (or a small rigatoni, or even elbow macaroni--whatever you've got on hand)

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, brown the ground meat together with the onion, celery and carrot. I usually use ground chuck and there is so little fat to drain that I usually don't bother.  If you are counting every calorie, go ahead and drain it.  Return it to the pan and add the diced tomatoes, beans, broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, salt, basil, oregano,  pepper and thyme.  I usually also add one bay leaf.  I'm a rebel that way.

Bring to a boil and lower the heat until it is maintained at a slow simmer.  Cook for 50 minutes, minimum.  It's always better the second day.  It's practically illegal by day three.  Keep in mind that this soup works very nice as a poaching liquid for Italian sausage links.  Just saying.

After 50 minutes, put on a pot of salted water to boil.  When it reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta to the water and allow to cook according to package directions.  Remove when al dente.

Now, you can add your pasta to the pot if you like, but we warned that it will continue to cook in the soup liquid and will begin to absorb a lot of the liquid in your pot.  Next day, you'll go to have a bowl of soup and find out you know have a pasta chowder that has to be watered down again.  I'm not a fan of losing precious liquid to pasta and then having to water down my soup that I worked so hard to develop the flavor in.  I usually keep my pasta on the side and add abut a quarter cup to a single serving of soup.  Much better.

Now, I modify this recipe.  What do I do?   

I chop up two mild Italian sausage links and brown it with the ground chuck, onion, carrot and celery mix.  Sausage adds rich fat flavor.  It gives this recipe ummph and ummph is a good thing.  A nice breakfast sausage might work just as well.  Because Italian sausage links usually come in packages of five, I throw the remaining three in to cook as the soup cooks.  You can leave them in there as long as you'd like. Take them out and feed them to your husband.  Hide them in the soup and save them for yourself.  Use them in another recipe.  Go crazy!

Italian sausage is also heavy in salt, so I completely omit the salt.

I usually skip buying prepared beef broth and just toss in two beef bullion cubes with the tomatoes and add 2 cups of water.  You don't have to use beef broth.  You can use tomato juice.  V8.  Plain water.  I've even used leftover coffee!  Use whatever is handy.  Whatever liquid you use will marry in with the flavors and turn into liquid gold.

I add any Parmesan rinds I have hidden in the back of the fridge with the tomatoes and tomato sauce.  This really add some fantastic flavor.  You've been throwing those away?  Oh dear Lord.  Don't do that anymore.

I rarely keep dried basil in the house.  I have frozen pesto left over from last year's garden in the freezer, and I usually add a tablespoon or so of the thawed pesto to the pot.  Pesto, for those who don't know is a maceration of fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.  Nothing there that would conflict with this recipe!

As I mentioned, I also add a bay leaf.  I fish it out before serving.

I usually add a generous 3/4 to a full cup of a good burgundy wine (Merlot, Shiraz, something along those lines).  I like wine in Italian dishes.  But be warned, this is going to change the tenor of this soup.  If you aren't a wine fan, proceed with caution.

I use whatever beans I have handy.  I usually try to stick with dark kidney beans, some white bean (Northern or Cannelli), or a bean mixture.  Pintos would fall apart. Avoid them.  Garbanzos?  No. You can use chili beans as long as they are rinsed.  You don't want Mexican overtones here. And Pasta e fagioli is not a spicy dish.

I almost always serve with a piece of chewy crusty bread.

Man, that's good eating.

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1 comment:

  1. I love pasta fagioli. I have been in the mood for a nice bowl of soup. All I need is the pancetta!

    Rowena
    Great data for Austin House Cleaning

    ReplyDelete

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