I just can’t peel my eyes away from this dish: a pasta with caramelized onions and white beans. I love it! It’s a comforting recipe filled with healthy olive oil, hearty legumes, and plenty of basil. And, of course, a grandma came up with this recipe…
A shoutout to grandmas
When it comes to cooking, we all have a soft spot for grandmas, and I am no exception. I recently adapted a recipe from a “Bibi” in Mozambique. And now, here I am making a pasta recipe adapted from a grandma living in Calabria, Italy. Seriously, though, if grandmas could take over food social media, they’d dominate. (This abuela already has.)
I adapted this recipe from Carluccia, a grandma featured in Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux. This book recounts experiences and recipes from the year she spent “cooking, foraging, and eating” with older women in different regions in Italy. I sometimes wondered what the grandmas would think of Theroux’s romantic recounts of their everyday lives. Nevertheless, I appreciated that I could meet some of the these figures through her writing.
For one, it was interesting reading about Carluccia, who made this pasta. She’s not just any old grandma, but rather one who runs a self-sufficient farm. I loved what Carluccia taught Theroux about being attentive when cooking. Theroux paraphrases:
Where are we in the season? Has the weather been damp or dry, sunny or cold lately? How fresh is the flour? Is the water hard or soft? What can I infer about my ingredient’s flavor and texture? And who am I feeding? Are they happy or in need of comfort? Are they cold to the bone from being out in the rain, or hot and sweaty? Ultimately, what is the most appropriate way for me to cook this food, to bring out the best it has to offer for my friends and family?Jessica Theroux, Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
It’s a great reminder that cooking is more than a list of ingredients and a scientific process. Cooking is part of a vast network of interconnected people, cultures, plants, environments, and weather.
Now back to pasta.
Making the pasta dish
I love that this pasta offers something different. Pasta doesn’t have to be loaded with garlic to be delicious. In this dish, there’s not a garlic clove in sight. Also, I just love the sweet earthiness that caramelized onions add. White beans contribute some protein, and basil adds a burst of flavor here and there. Pair this with some fresh pasta and the freshness is unbeatable.
- Caramelize the onions: Although not difficult, this does require a little patience. Chop the onion in half and then in quarters before making thin slices. Toss these onion slices into olive oil that’s been warming over medium-low. Stir occasionally, and set a timer for 15-17 minutes. You’ll want to wait until most of the onions have a golden-brown glow.
- Toss in the cooked white beans and water: As I’m away from my pressure cooker, I used canned beans here, although freshly cooked is always best. No secret here: just toss them into the caramelized onions with 1/4 cup of water (or bean cooking water).
- Cook the pasta: If you’re making fresh pasta, you’ll probably want to throw your noodles into the boiling water just as you add the beans to your onions. (Dry pasta might take longer, so you’d want to boil it sooner in the process.) The recipe I adapted called for fusilli, but I made some flat noodles, I guess because I love chasing cats as they attempt to attack all the spaghetti “snakes!”
- Add the tomatoes at the very end of the cooking process. When they’re slightly wilted, you’ll be ready to scoop this over your pasta and top with some torn basil.
Fresh pasta’s not that hard! Check out my recipe for vegan pasta using semolina and einkorn flour.Print
A simple, protein-rich recipe for pasta featuring caramelized onions and garden vegetables.
- 1 recipe fresh pasta (or 1 1-pound box fusilli), cooked as directed
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cups sliced red onion (for cutting instructions see above)
- 3 cups cooked white beans, or two cans, drained and rinsed
- salt, to taste
- 1 cup chopped cherry tomatoes
- 1 large handful basil
- If using cooked pasta, then begin cooking as directed. If using fresh pasta, you may want to save the cooking until after you finish the topping so that you can top the pasta and serve it immediately.
- Heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and a sprinkle of salt to help the onion cook faster. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Continue cooking, stirring, or shaking the pan occasionally, for 15-17 minutes or until the onions are caramelized and starting to turn brown. They should taste sweet.
- Add the white beans, 1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste), and 1/4 cup water and continue stirring.
- Add the tomatoes and cook just until they start to wilt.
- Arrange the cooked pasta on four plates and drizzle with olive oil. Divide the topping over the pasta and top with freshly torn basil leaves. Enjoy!
Adapted from Carluccia’s recipe featured in Jessica Theroux’s Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
Keywords: pasta, caramelized onions, tomato, basil, fresh, fresh pasta, vegetarian, vegan, simple food, slow food, simple, plant-based