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Pasta and Bean Soup*

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound prosciutto di Parma, cut into medium dice (double-smoked bacon can be substituted)
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
1 small Spanish onion, peeled and cut into small dice
1 stalk celery, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 quart store-bought, reduced-sodium vegetable broth or homemade vegetable stock
1 quart water
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled
One 1-pound-13-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup dried ditalini pasta, cooked and drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
Extra-virgin olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring, until the prosciutto begins to render its fat, about 5 minutes.

Add the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, stir to coat the other ingredients, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth, water, and potatoes. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are very soft (a sharp, thin-bladed knife should easily pierce their center), about 20 minutes. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes to a bowl. Mash the potatoes with a masher or a large fork or spoon.

Return the mashed potatoes to the pot and stir them into the soup. If not serving immediately, let cool, cover and refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to 1 month. Reheat before proceeding.

Add the beans and pasta. Cook over medium heat until the beans are warmed through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rosemary, crushed red pepper, and cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.

To serve, ladle some soup into each of 8 bowls. Top with some more cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Serves 8

This recipe can be made in advance, but don't add the pasta until the soup has been reheated or the noodles will expand like sponges and turn this into a watery pasta dish. For the same reason, if you only serve a portion of the soup at a time, keep the amount you don't use separate and pasta-free.

==== LYNNE'S QUICK TIPS ====
* Ditalini are tiny, very short tubes of macaroni. Find them in most large supermarkets.

* Cured pork products lend flavor and depth to a dish. An ounce or two goes a long way when used as a seasoning, so don't worry about calories.

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