It’s amazing how food can be so contextual and nostalgic, likely cuz while we may live in our minds, we mainly experience through our bodies and eating is closely tied with the sense of smell. And why is smell so much more strongly linked to memory than say touch? The olfactory bulb, which contains nerve cells that process smells, is only 2 synapses from the amygdala which is the part of the brain involved with processing emotions. The hippocampus where short term and active memory are consolidated is just 3 synapses away. So when you smell roses you may remember the context, physical and psychological, of that scent like your granny’s garden or your first bouquet. The first time I had pasta e fagioli, literally “pasta and beans,” it was a typical cold damp winter night and we’d been rambling around the neighborhood with pooch in tow out exploring while giving fuzz face his evening constitutional. We dropped in on a newish Italian trattoria and got a smattering of their rustic offerings to take home with a very devoted dog groupie. While the smoky bacon, creamy beans, piquant tomato, sweet veggies, and hot filling broth are delicious, the feeling of having a warm belly when even your hair feels cold is a very comforting sensation cuz how can anything be wrong in such a world? Like many non-creamy soups, the flavors meld even more overnight so you can savor your nostalgia another day. In addition to being nutritious and filling this low-cal this soup, with a little extra cardio, can help shed those extra pounds from Aunt Stella’s special Christmas shortbread as well rehydrate you during flu season🙂
A few helpful hints:
1) If you’re planing on reenacting soup-vana the next day like I do, use only half of the amount of cabbage cuz not only does it get super mushy when it’s cooked too long but also overcooked cabbage releases dimethyl sulfide which is responsible for the terrible sulphur-y aroma that we’ve all experienced with limp, cabbage of the undead.
2) I like to set a timer for one minute less than the recommended pasta cooking time so that I have a minute to stir in the cabbage, zucchini, and beans without turning them into mush or overcooking the pasta.
1 tsp canola oil
1 medium-sized zucchini, striped and in 1-inch rounds
2 strips bacon **if cooking vegetarian/vegan substitute 1 tsp toasted sesame oil +1 tsp extra virgin olive oil + 1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 small sweet onion, diced
1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 tsp (1 clove) crushed garlic
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
4 c low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp sugar
1/2 tbsp fresh (1/2 tsp dried) thyme
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 c cherry tomatoes or 1 large ripe tomato or 1 tsp tomato paste + 1 tsp cider vinegar
1 c cabbage, julienned
1/2 c small-shaped pasta like elbow macaroni (I like to use ditalini, “small thimble” shaped pasta)
1 15-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
Grease a small baking pan and broil zucchini on highest rack till golden brown ~5-7 minutes. Set aside.
In a large ~3 quart pot brown bacon on med-hi heat till fat is rendered. Using a paper towel and tongs blot out excess fat till ~2 tsp remain. Sauté onion, carrot, celery, garlic and crushed red pepper till tender and onion is translucent. Stir in broth, salt, sugar, tomatoes and pasta and simmer till pasta is al dente. Add cabbage, zucchini, and beans and simmer for another minute. Season with freshly ground pepper to taste. Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer.
**For 1 main course serving. Since the majority of the bacon fat gets removed, I suspect the calorie count and estimated fat content are too high so bonus🙂