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Meat Lite: Soppressata Pasta Fagioli

Pasta fagioli is a traditional Italian peasant dish that was cheap to make because it was usually meatless. Inexpensive ingredients of beans and pasta thicken the soup into a hearty meal. There are countless versions of the recipe and nearly as many ways to pronounce fagioli (beans), depending on the Italian dialect emphasized (fajool, fazul, fazoo, fajeeoli). Plenty of iterations of the recipe call on a bit of pancetta, bacon, or sausage to add depth of flavor and texture. A quarter pound of soppressata (about 1 link) serves that purpose in this Meat Lite variation.

The desired consistency of pasta fagioli is as much of a personal preference. I like mine thick and scoopable, like a cross between a stew and a pasta dish. If you prefer a soupier result, double the stock or broth called for below and consider cooking the pasta separately before adding it to the pot. The uncooked pasta naturally absorbs liquid and releases starches into the soup as it cooks (plus the pasta continues to cook, absorb and soften as it sits in the liquid, so if you are opposed to anything more than al dente, keep the pasta separate from the rest until serving).

If you prefer a vegetarian pasta fagioli, skip the soppressata and start by sweating the onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Use vegetable broth instead of meat stock.

This recipe is a one-pot wonder, making it perfect for a low-maintenance dinner and easy on cleanup. Make a big pot because true to its peasant roots, it's cheap and it freezes nicely, too. Add a few splashes of water when reheating to thin out the soup a little.

About the author: Tara Mataraza Desmond writes about, cooks, and eats food for a living. She blogs about food and life through words and pictures at Crumbs On My Keyboard.

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