This low-fat, vegan pasta fagioli, the traditional Italian pasta and beans soup, is thick and delicious. Using an Instant Pot speeds it up!
Since the weather got cooler, I’ve been making a lot more soups and stews. And since I’ve been test-driving a new Instant Pot (more about that in an upcoming post), I’ve been pressure cooking a lot of dried beans. So it was only natural to use my new gadget to make a soup/stew starting with dried beans. But don’t worry–you don’t have to have a pressure cooker to make this thick, Italian-inspired soup because I’ll tell you how to make it in either a pressure cooker or in a regular pot on the stove.
I’ve had these beautiful cranberry beans sitting in a jar in my kitchen for a while, and though they make for an attractive decoration, beans do get old and should be used before they’re eligible for social security. So when I saw a Food Network recipe for Cranberry Bean Pasta Fagioli, I knew I had to make–and veganize–it. And pressure cookerize it. And fatfree-ize it. You get the picture. By the time I got through doing all that and doubling the amount of beans, it wasn’t much like the original. But it was delicious.
You don’t have to go searching for cranberry beans if you don’t have them because this recipe works just as well with pinto beans (cranberry beans have a slightly nuttier flavor, but with all the other flavors in this soup, I doubt you’ll notice). I used whole wheat pasta, but any pasta, including gluten-free, will do. I also used tomatoes from a box to avoid BPA, but you could use one of those big cans of tomatoes if you prefer. And I have a big rosemary bush right outside my kitchen window, so using fresh is easy for me, but you could always substitute dried.
I was actually very surprised at how much my family loved this dish. I’ve made other “pasta and beans” dishes, but this is one of the few times I’ve started with dried beans, and I really think it makes a difference. Lately it can be hard to get my daughter to eat beans, other than chickpeas, so I was thrilled when she liked this so much. I served it with a large chopped salad and that was all we needed for a hearty meal.
Be sure to check out my other pressure cooker recipes, all of which can be cooked in an electric or traditional pressure cooker.
- 2 cups dried cranberry beans, borlotti beans, or pinto beans (soaked for at least an hour–see step 1)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 7 cloves garlic, minced and divided
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 26 ounces chopped tomatoes, canned
- 3 teaspoons dried basil leaves, divided
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt (optional or to taste)
- 2 cups small pasta, whole grain or gluten-free preferred
- 10 ounces kale, stems removed and leaves chopped (4-6 cups chopped)
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- At least an hour before cooking: Check the beans for rocks and other debris and rinse them well. Then do a quick soak by placing the beans in a pot or pressure cooker, covering with 2 inches of water, and bringing to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand for at least 1 hour. Drain well and rinse. Set aside. (Alternately, soak overnight, drain well, and rinse.)
- Heat your pressure cooker (use the Sauté or Brown button on electric PC’s). Add the onion and a pinch of baking soda (optional) and cook until it begins to soften, adding water by the tablespoon if necessary to prevent sticking. Add the celery, half of the garlic, the rosemary, and the red pepper flakes and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of basil, 1 teaspoon oregano, and the smoked paprika. Heat, stirring, until hot.
- Add the drained beans, 6 cups of water or vegetable broth, and salt, if you desire. Lock the lid in place, bring to high pressure, and cook at high pressure for 10 minutes. (Electric PC’s: select Manual and set the time to 10 minutes.) After 10 minutes at high pressure, remove from heat or turn off electric cooker and allow the pressure to come down naturally for 15 minutes. Release all pressure using a quick release. Carefully open the lid and check the beans. If they are not all completely softened and cooked, replace the lid and bring to high pressure for another minute or two. Quick-release pressure and check beans again. Do this until the beans are all tender.
- Once the beans are done, add the reserved garlic, basil, and oregano and check to see if additional salt is needed. Add the pasta and return to medium heat (electric PC–use Sauté or Brown setting). Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is almost al dente–just a touch undercooked. Stir in the kale, turn off the heat, and cover the cooker. Allow the kale to cook in the residual heat for about 5 minutes. Check kale and pasta for tenderness and add more time if needed. Stir in nutritional yeast and freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve.
Follow the directions in steps 1 through 3, using a large, heavy pot. Then add the dried beans, salt, and 8 cups of water or broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until beans are tender, adding more water if necessary. Allow 1 1/2 to 2 hours for beans to cook.
Uncover the pot and bring back to a boil. Add the pasta and reserved seasonings and check the liquid level–there should be enough to cover the pasta completely; if not, add more. Cook until pasta is al dente. Add the kale, cover the pot, and cook on low for 3-5 minutes. Add nutritional yeast and black pepper to taste.
A Note About Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast gives this soup a savory umami flavor that replaces the Parmesan cheese used in traditional Pasta Fagioli recipes. But it has come to my attention that there have been studies (such as this one and this one) that raise the concern that high amounts of synthetic folic acid may increase the risk of breast cancer. Most brands of nutritional yeast do contain added folic acid in varying amounts, and while using a little every now and then is probably not a problem, if you use a lot, you may want to read labels carefully and choose brands that contain as little folic acid as possible. I know of two brands of nutritional yeast that don’t contain any synthetic folic acid: KAL Unfortified Yeast Flakes and Dr. Fuhrman’s Nutritional Yeast. If you know of other brands, please leave details in the comments.
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