Cheater Pasta e Fagioli

Listen, when I say "pasta e fagioli", I'm picturing Italian soup with beans and pasta and parm and lots of freshly ground black pepper, some kind of tomatoes, and maybe some meat. I'm not sure what the traditional version is, though I remember as a kid my beloved aunt with Italian roots serving us a broth-based soup piled high with white beans, ditalini pasta, parmesan cheese, and fresh pepper, with breaded chicken cutlets on the side. This is sort of inspired by that, and sort of inspired by what I had on hand.

I was thinking about what meals to bring to some friends who are recovering from a medical situation, and threw this together based on what I had lying around, plus a few things I snagged at the grocery store. It was super easy, relatively quick, and quite tasty. Definitely putting this in our winter rotation!

I also brought a version of  my favorite quinoa salad , to which I added a lot of my  favorite easy veggies .

I also brought a version of my favorite quinoa salad, to which I added a lot of my favorite easy veggies.

Cheater Pasta e Fagioli

(Recommend reading through the whole recipe first.)

1 large onion, diced

1 x 10 ounce container cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size

1 x 15 ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

8 cups chicken stock (Not broth. But broth will do if it's what you have.)

2-4 cups water

8 ounces orzo pasta, uncooked

8 meatballs (Frozen is fine. I used Trader Joe's turkey meatballs from the freezer section.)

parmesan rind

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

Pull your meatballs out of the freezer, and let sit on a plate covered with a paper towel. By the time you finish chopping your other vegetables, they should be thawed enough to cut easily. You want to cut them into eights: cut them in half, cut them in quarters, cut the quarters in half. This isn't rocket surgery.

Saute chopped onion and a pinch of salt in olive oil over low-medium heat until translucent, about 8-10 minutes.

Add chopped tomatoes and beans to the pot with the onions, and stir around for a minute or two. Add parmesan rind, stock, and 1 cup water, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and let simmer 30-60 minutes to thicken a bit. Bring to a boil once more. Add orzo and meatballs. Set your timer for about 7 minutes to allow the orzo to cook. Once the orzo is cooked, you can eat or keep cooking. Read on for more.

A couple of notes:

- Once the orzo is cooked, taste the soup for seasoning. You might need a bit of salt, but keep in mind the meatballs will let some salt out as the soup sits and the flavors meld. Best to have a light hand with the salt here and add more at the table if needed.

In short: if you have time, don't salt it yet. Give it all another 30 minutes or so and see how salty it is. If you don't have time, don't salt it.

- The soup will thicken as it sits because of the orzo. A purist (my husband) would cook the orzo seaparately and add it to each bowl when serving so it never gets waterlogged. I don't mind a waterlogged orzo in this application, and I don't want to dirty more dishes. Add more water as needed to thin it out and/or balance the salt.

You can store it with the parmesan rind still in, but be careful not to scoop it into anyone's bowl.

Serve with salad, crusty bread, and a big ole glass of wine.