Why It Works
- Using dried beans that are boiled with aromatics produces a more deeply flavored final sauce.
- The beans blend into a creamy sauce that coats the noodles, but doesn't require dairy of any sort.
When Kenji was up to his ears coming up with great new ideas for his annual month of vegan eating, I remained on a diet that included meats and cheese.* In 2015, I noticed some folks asking for vegan bean recipes in the comments of his introductory article to the 4th year of the vegan experience, and thought I might be able to help with that. (Plus, with all the great vegan stuff happening on the site, I didn't want to be left totally out of the action.)
*Usually, a lot of meat and cheese.
I have a passion for beans, which developed back when I used to cook for the Tuscan chef Cesare Casella. The Tuscans are famous for their beans (they're sometimes called the mangiafagioli—bean eaters—in Italy), and Cesare is no exception. When I worked for him, he'd import thousands of pounds of beans every year from Italy, and I learned plenty of tricks from him on how to use them.
One of those tricks was this simple pasta with a sauce made from puréed beans, which I've made with chickpeas here. It couldn't be easier to make: You simply sauté some garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, add some cooked beans along with some of their cooking water, then purée it to make a smooth, creamy sauce. Add a handful of whole cooked beans for some texture, and you're basically done.
Now, I know this may sound like a weird dish, but it's actually just an inversion of the Italy's classic pasta e fagioli soup, except the ratio of soup and pasta has been flipped. (It's also reminiscent of the starch-heavy, yet delicious, vegetable pasta sauce recipe I shared several months ago.)
I'll be honest—if left to my own devices, I wouldn't necessarily make this vegan. I'd finish it with grated Parmesan, and possibly melt some anchovies into the oil with the garlic and red pepper flakes. Those are nice touches, but they aren't necessary. This more simple vegan version has a wonderfully clean flavor that lets the beans shine through.
That brings us to the beans. Yes, you can make this recipe with canned beans, and it'll be good. But with a dish this simple, each individual ingredient becomes much more important. For the best results, I implore you to cook dried chickpeas from scratch, adding aromatics like rosemary, garlic, and onion to the cooking water (and discarding them before proceeding with the recipe). You'll get much more deeply and richly flavored beans that way, and given that they're the backbone of the dish, that's kinda important.
If you do cook your own beans, make sure they are fully cooked and creamy throughout, without any trace of graininess; don't worry if some fall apart; you're puréeing most of them anyway. In the case of chickpeas, that can take a loooooong time, so be patient and err on the side of overcooking them (or use a pressure cooker to speed things up). If you don't want to use chickpeas or have some other bean on hand, you'll be happy to know this recipe works with all sorts, from cannellini to cranberry beans.
To finish the dish, I cook the pasta, then finish it in the bean sauce with a little of the pasta-cooking water added. Chopped parsley adds a fresh note.
I also drizzle in some extra-virgin olive oil right at the end to get a boost of its fresh, uncooked flavor. A generous grating of black pepper also works wonders.
Of course, if you decide to add some grated cheese, I won't snitch.
12 ounces dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in salted water (see notes)
1 large onion, split in half
1 head garlic, 3 cloves thinly sliced, the rest left unpeeled
3 sprigs rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound short ruffled pasta, such as farfalle
1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
Place chickpeas in a large pot and cover with lightly salted water by at least 2 inches. Add unpeeled garlic, onion, and rosemary. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook, topping up with water as necessary to keep beans submerged, until beans are very tender and creamy with no graininess left, about 2 hours. Beans can also be cooked in a pressure cooker at low pressure for 30 minutes. (See note if using canned beans.) Discard onions, garlic, and rosemary. Drain beans, reserving beans and liquid separately. You should have 4 cups drained chickpeas and at least 1 1/2 cups chickpea-cooking liquid.
In a medium saucepan, combine oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups chickpeas and chickpea-cooking liquid (or liquid from the cans) and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and, using an immersion blender, blend to a smooth, saucy purée, adding more chickpea-cooking liquid (or water or vegetable broth) if too thick. Stir in remaining 1 cup chickpeas, crushing some lightly with a wooden spoon or potato masher but leaving them mostly whole. Season with salt and pepper.
In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until just short of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta. Return pasta to pot and add chickpea sauce along with 1/4 cup of reserved pasta-cooking water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until pasta is al dente and sauce has thickened just enough to coat pasta, about 3 minutes; add more reserved pasta-cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if sauce becomes too thick. Remove from heat, stir in chopped parsley and drizzle in some fresh olive oil, stirring to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta and sauce into bowls, garnish with chopped parsley, and serve.
Chickpeas can also be prepared using the quick soak method. Cover with water in a large pot, bring to a boil, remove from heat, and let rest for 1 hour. Drain and proceed with the recipe as directed.
To use canned beans, omit dried beans, onion, unpeeled garlic, and rosemary and skip step 1. Drain three 15-ounce cans of cooked chickpeas, reserving the liquid from the cans (supplement with water or vegetable broth if the liquid measures less than 1 1/2 cups). Continue with step 2 as directed.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 15g||19%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||11%|
|Total Carbohydrate 36g||13%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||9%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||31%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|