A delicious mixture of beans, pasta and root vegetables, this Tuscan Bean Stew is inspired by my student travels and perfect for an easy midweek supper. A great way to celebrate World Pasta Day!
I have always had a huge passion for languages, travel and culture. These days I mostly enjoy travel via the medium of food (two small children makes actual travel to far flung places a little trickier these days, or even near flung ones for that matter), but once upon a time the real kind of travel was possible and I had some lovely adventures in my late teens and early twenties.
One of my favourite trips was the 6 weeks I spent at language school in Florence, Italy (just to avoid confusion with Florence, South Carolina or any other Florences there may be in the world.) This actually came about after I had just spent a whole year as an intern in Paris and had managed to save up enough to spend a decent amount of time learning Italian in one of Italy’s most beautiful cities, not to mention enjoying everything that wonderful city of culture has to offer.
One of the most brilliant things about my trip to Florence was that the language school made arrangements to have their students ‘hosted’ by Italian families. As a result I spent 6 weeks staying with Signor and Signora Tendi and their family. It was a wonderful way of being immersed in real Italian life. My host family could best be described as ‘salt of the earth’ – utterly authentic, complete with the stereotypical Italian mamma who loved nothing more than to spend her days cooking for her family…and me!
And believe me I ate well during those 6 weeks, really well. One thing you learn when you go to real Italy (as opposed to the touristy places), is that Italians eat differently from us Brits. Pasta is served as a first course, not a main course. Meat and a side dish of vegetables is the main course. And this is usually followed by fruit, rather than a big pudding. (Well there’s not much room to fit in a big pudding after two massive courses!).
When it came to the pasta course, the mamma of the family often made a Tuscan bean stew similar to this one I am sharing with you today – a simple pasta dish consisting of beans, vegetables and small pasta shapes in a rich tomato sauce. And as far as I understand it, this is a pretty traditional way to start a meal in Tuscany.
Back home in the UK, I eagerly set about recreating this dish, but being British, I usually have this as a main course not a starter (with potatoes and pasta, it’s pretty filling already, there’s no way I’d have any more room to fit in a big meaty main course afterwards). It went on to be one of our staple meals for years – we’d have it pretty much every week, often twice as it’s a great one to make extra and reheat the next day, or take into work for a healthy microwave lunch.
But since starting this blog my meal plans are often so stuffed full of my new ideas, that I have a tendency to forget about our old favourites. I had a sudden realisation whilst we were on holiday this year and I was cooking up all several simple pasta dishes in our gorgeous little apartment in Aix, that so many of our old favourites hadn’t actually ever made it onto the blog. And what better day to share with you one of our all-time favourite pasta dishes that today…World Pasta Day?
I have tried many different wines with this dish over the years. If you fancy a white wine, it actually goes surprisingly well with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, but I prefer to keep it local and go with a Tuscan Sangiovese.
Tuscan Bean Stew
- Olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced finely
- 1 small leek sliced
- 1 large carrot diced
- 1 large baking potato peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic crushed or grated
- 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
- 200 ml water half the empty tomato can
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 400 g tin mixed beans drained
- 100 g macaroni or other small pasta shape
- Small handful basil leaves torn
- Grated Grana Padano or Parmesan for sprinkling or vegetarian equivalent
Place the olive oil, onion and leek in a large deep saucepan and fry over a gently over a low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the carrot, potato and garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
Add the chopped tomatoes and 200ml water to the pan, then crumble in the stock cube and add a little salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then cook over a low heat for 20 minutes.
Add the drained tin of mixed beans and cook for 10 more minutes, until the potato is cooked and the sauce has thickened.
Meanwhile cook the macaroni according to pack instructions. When the macaroni is cooked, drain and add to the bean stew.
Tear up your basil and add to the stew. Serve the stew with the cheese sprinkled over the top, or put the cheese in a bowl on the table for everyone to help themselves.
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