Whenever I decide to cook straight from the pantry, one of two things usually results: pasta or beans.
No matter how fetchingly the other long-term tenants of the larder beckon (I see you, tinned fish! Hiya, eggs!), I lean on pasta and beans most for last-minute meals.
Recipe: Lemony Pasta With Braised White Beans
They are the two ingredients that everyone in my house almost always feels like eating. They both are also incredibly versatile shape-shifters that play nicely with whatever other staples I have on hand: typically some combination of lemon, garlic, olive oil and chile flakes. Easygoing pros, pasta and beans never cause a fuss.
This time, though, instead of limiting myself to one starring ingredient, I opted to mix them, letting them share the pan to create a dinner as memorable as it is convenient.
Of course, pasta and beans have already co-starred in many classic dishes. There’s pasta e fagioli and pasta e ceci, both of which can be as soupy or stewlike as you prefer. And then there’s minestrone, which falls squarely into the brothier camp.
I wanted this dish to be more like a saucy pasta than a soupy stew (or stew-y soup), something to eat with a fork, not a spoon. I pictured a velvety bean sauce clinging to the pasta, full of lemony, garlicky, chile-laden character.
Canned beans have an edge over home-cooked in achieving just the right texture here, because they tend to be starchier and easier to mash into the olive oil in the pan. But this is a pantry meal, so use whatever you have on hand. Letting the beans braise in copious amounts of oil, along with the aromatics, helps them absorb flavor and break down into a silky sauce.
Yet it’s the pasta water that’s instrumental in getting the correct texture. Add just enough to thin out the bean mixture so it can coat the pasta, drizzling it in little by little, but stop short of flooding the pan.
I’ve finished this dish minimally, with just Parmesan and something green like parsley or arugula (or spinach, or basil, or whatever is in residence in your produce drawer). These fresh, verdant flecks, coupled with a squeeze of lemon juice, brighten the dish and add crucial acidity and color. It’s pivotal little touches like these that allow even a classic pairing to really shine anew.
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