Pasta e Fagioli Salad with Raspberry Black Pepper Mint Pesto

Pasta e fagioli. A tasty melange of pasta and beans. Oftentimes, it’s done with borlotti beans, but depending on the individual or village in Italy, the beans can vary. This dish can be a soup, or a pasta dish, but today, I wanted to take all the flavours of the traditional dish and make it into a pasta salad.
Firstly, I started with the cooked flavour of onion and tomato. Tomato changes with cooking, not only is the lycopene more readily absorbed by the body, so it’s more nutritious, the flavour magnifies. Since tossing a tomato sauce in a pasta salad would just taste like cold pasta and sauce, I decided on simply grilling the tomato and onion components (along with leeks, but it’s in the onion family, so I lumped that idea together).
Secondly, I wanted a variety of beans. At this time of year, all kinds of fresh beans are available, as well as peas. I thought I’d have a mix of flat beans, yellow beans and peas. All bring a unique flavour and texture to the dish. I did a simple blanching of the legumes and chilled them in ice water to lock in its texture, colour and flavour.
Thirdly, a beautifully cooked Italian sauce or broth always includes carrot and pancetta or lardo. The carrots I left fresh and simply grated them for the salad and instead of pancetta (the butcher shop I like to get my pancetta from only has it for a week or two every few months), I went with a wonderful crispy bacon from a nearby farm.
Finally, to dress the pasta salad, I wanted something bold in flavour. I had a lot of fresh mint and just made a quick raspberry jam yesterday so I wanted to combine these flavours in a pesto. Since raspberry and mint on their own would veer quickly into a dessert-like sauce, I added toasted flax and black pepper to reinforce its savouriness.
The blend of all the flavours, although complex, harmonize beautifully into a summery fresh version of the Italian classic. I’m a Canadian guy with a penchant for diversity, so this isn’t in any way authentic. It’s just a fun way to play with a dish because having fun is the most important thing. Capturing that child-like innocence and playfulness always enriches your life. So have fun! 🙂

Pasta e Fagioli Salad with Raspberry Black Pepper Mint Pesto

For the Raspberry Black Pepper Mint Pesto:

1/2 tsp toasted flax seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1 Tbsp fresh raspberry jam (mine was homemade, left quite tart with only a minimal amount of maple syrup for sweetening. 1-1/2 cups fresh raspberries with 2 Tbsp maple syrup cooked down on the stove over medium heat until a thick jam consistency is achieved)
3 Tbsp cold pressed flax oil
1/2 tsp salt

In a blender, add the flax seeds and peppercorns. Grind until a fine powder is achieved. Add the fresh mint, raspberry jam, flax oil and salt. Purée until nearly smooth with a few chunks remaining. Set aside.

For the salad:

2 summer onions, halved
2 leeks, halved lengthwise
1 tsp cold pressed canola oil
10-12 cherry tomatoes, left whole
3/4 cup shelled peas
3/4 cup flat beans, ends trimmed and cut into 5cm/2″ pieces
1/4 cup yellow beans, ends trimmed and cut into 5cm/2″ pieces
1/4 cup coarsely grated fresh carrot
4 slices bacon, cooked until crispy, crumbled
2 cups cooked pasta (I used shells, but any short pasta would do)
Reserved Raspberry Black Pepper Mint Pesto

On a grill over medium high heat, grill the onions and leeks that have been brushed lightly with oil. After about 5-7 minutes, add the tomatoes brushed with oil to the grill with the onions/leeks and grill for a further 5-7 minutes until golden on all sides. Remove from the grill and set aside.
In a small pot over medium high heat, bring 3-4 cups of water to a boil. Add the peas, flat beans and yellow beans. Blanch for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into a bowl of ice water. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
Chop the cooled, grilled onion and leek, discarding any tough green parts. Add them to a large bowl with the blanched and cooled beans along with the carrot, and cooked pasta. Toss gently to combine. Add the grilled tomatoes and toss gently again. Add the pesto and work it into the salad until uniformly combined. Divide over two plates and garnish each with the crispy bacon. Serves 2 as a meal or 4 as a side.

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