This is a very easy soup that my mother found years ago in House Beautiful magazine, I believe. I have started using the dry beans soaked and cooked separately and it makes a huge difference! It is nice to blend some of the soup mixture up before adding the pasta to give the soup some body. I only add **1/2 c. pasta-stars, dilatini or orzo all work well. Also if you have any parmesan rinds you are saving, wrap them in cheesecloth and simmer them in the soup-they add so much flavor! Note-If you like beans you should definitely try Rancho Gordo beans as they are all fantastic. I used a yellow eyed bean for this soup and it is incredible. Rancho Gordo has wonderful heirloom beans, most of which I have never heard of-very fun to try the different beans.
Serves 10 as a first course or 6 as a main course
3 tablespoons pure olive oil
3 to 4 ounces pancetta, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups (about 14 ounces) dried cranberry, borlotti, cannellini, or other small white beans, soaked overnight in water to cover, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups diced canned plum tomatoes, with juices
8 cups water or chicken broth, or as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound small shells, ditalini, or other small pasta shape **
Extra virgin olive oil for finishing
Grated Parmesan for finishing
In a large soup kettle, warm the pure olive oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until it renders its fat and is golden, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the soaked beans, the tomatoes and their juices, the 8 cups water, and 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender, about 1 hour.
To give the soup more body, remove 2 or 3 large spoonfuls of beans and vegetables, place in a food processor or blender, and purée until smooth. Return the purée to the pot. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Although you can cook the pasta directly in the soup, there is a danger of the soup scorching if the beans have been puréed. To avoid this, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, stir well, and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, add to the soup, and simmer for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, and top each serving with a generous swirl of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of Parmesan, and a liberal dusting of black pepper. Serve at once.