During my Christmas visit to family, it came to pass one evening that we supposedly had “no food” in the house. Rather than order Chinese takeout or pizza, I took a look around and found a few items that I threw together and we ended up having a dinner of equal parts improvisation, vegetarianism, and tastiness. I’ve tweaked my madcap make-do meal a bit to create a Christmas-themed variant of the classic Italian dish Pasta e Fagioli.
Many Christmas Eve traditions include a vegetarian dinner in preparation for the Christmas day feast, making this a good choice for a main course soup. In addition, the bright red and green colors make this meal visually appropriate for the holiday. Although it requires many steps, all are extremely easy. I prepped and cooked the entire dish in less than one hour. I hope you will experiment with it and enjoy!
Christmas Eve Pasta e Fagioli, Vegan and Vegetarian Versions.
- 1 pound of farro pasta, preferably small shells or elbows
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 small red onion, quarter-inch dice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- One 15-oz. can of garbanzo or red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup of chopped walnuts
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika (pimenton)
- 1-3 teaspoons of dried red pepper flakes to taste
- 1 tablespoon ground fenugreek seeds (odd but effective)
- 12 cocktail cucumbers (2-3 inches long, .5 inch thick), sliced into quarter-inch slices. Substitution: 2 Persian Cucumbers or 2 small Zucchini in quarter-inch dice
- 30 red cherry or grape tomatoes, split lengthwise
- 1-2 tablespoons of dried thyme to taste
- 2 cups of julienned spinach leaves
- 3 tablespoons Pesto Genovese (the traditional basil, Parmasan cheese and pine nut recipe). Vegan: Three tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil.
- 1 pint vegetable broth
- Finely chopped Italian parsley and/or basil for garnish
- Optional Garnish: finely shredded Parmasan and Cheddar cheeses. The Cheddar seems odd, but it worked.
- Have reading a boiling pot of salted water for the pasta.
- Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until shimmering.
- Add the onion and reduce heat to medium low, stirring frequently, until translucent and soft, about 8-10 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper, the beans, and the chopped walnuts, stirring until everything is coated. Add the smoked paprika, fenugreek, and red pepper flakes, stirring until everything is coated again. Stir for about 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in the cucumbers and saute for about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the tomatoes and thyme; saute for about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the spinach and either the pesto or basil.
- At this point, make sure the pot of salted water is boiling.
- Add the broth to the saute, stir once more, bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cover.
- Add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente. Drain thoroughly, but reserve one cup of pasta water.
- Add the pasta water to the broth. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
- Set forth 4-6 bowls.
- Divide the pasta evenly among the bowls.
- Divide the broth evenly among the bowls, pouring over the pasta.
- Garnish with the herbs and optional cheeses.
- Serve with soup spoons, accompanied by a rustic bread and mixed green salad.
The bright red and green colors will lend a festive appearance to the Christmas Eve table. Totally improvised from an “empty” larder but the results came as a nice surprise to everyone, including yours truly.
Vonn Scott Bair