Sausage and Bean Soup with Pasta

serves 6

* My favorite variation:  For a creamier soup, puree about 3/4 of the beans before you add the cooked sausage back into the pot.  Only add 3/4 of the beans into the pot, after you have sauteed the vegetables.  Stick an immersion blender into the pot and puree the soup for just about 30 seconds.  Then add the rest of the beans and the sausage and continue the recipe.  It makes the soup thick and creamy.

1 cup dried cannellini or cellini beans or 1 15-ounce can of any beans you like, drained
1 pound ground sausage, turkey or pork
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 medium carrot, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
6 to 8 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 cup ditalini pasta, or any small pasta
grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

If using dried beans, place them in a pot, cover with cold water and let soak for several hours or overnight. Drain. Cover with cold water again and gently simmer them, covered for about an hour until just soft.

In a large pot, brown the sausage.  Remove from pot.  If there is a lot of fat left in the pot, pour this out but do not wipe out pot.  Add onion, carrot and olive oil and saute for 2-3 minutes until soft.  Add garlic and saute about a minute more.   Add  the tomatoes, 6 cups of the chicken broth, thyme, bay leaf, some salt and pepper and the drained beans (*this is the point to puree the beans if you want to) and the sausage and cover the pot. Cook for 30 - 45 minutes over low heat, at a gentle simmer.

If using dried beans, check for doneness at this point.  (If using canned beans, add the pasta now.)  If the beans are not soft enough, cover the pot again and cook for another 15 - 30 minutes or until the beans are soft. Add the pasta and cook, uncovered, until the pasta is tender.  Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste.  If the soup is too thick for your liking, add some more chicken broth.

Serve with grated cheese on top and an extra drizzle of olive oil.

Variation:  Add a couple of handfuls of fresh chopped greens like spinach, chard, etc. to the last 15 or 20 minutes of cooking time.

The Italian Dish