Pasta e fagioli, the classic Italian hodgepodge of pasta and beans, takes on irresistible flavor and texture at Brunos Trattoria in Brea.

Often pronounced “pasta fazool” in the U.S., Brunos’ version is rich with vegetables and has a just-right luxurious thickness.

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Christian De La Vara, Bruno’s executive chef, enriches the broth with sautéed diced pancetta, the tasty Italian-style bacon that is spiked with black pepper. The meat gives the dish an underlying richness without overpowering the beans and pasta, the fresh herbs, carrots and celery.

This short video shows his pasta e fagioli secrets.

The chef uses dried borlotti beans or cranberry beans in the soup, medium to large tan beans that are streaked with red, magenta, or black. They have appealing starchiness and lend silkiness to the mix once one-third of the cooked mixture is pureed.

(Find the beans at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa and Mother’s Markets, as well as some supermarkets and from online sources.)

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Once ladled into shallow bowls, Chef De La Vara tops each serving with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and a good pinch of chopped Italian parsley.

Deliziosa.

Brunos’ Pasta e Fagioli
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
2 pounds dried borlotti beans or cranberry beans, see cook’s notes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces pancetta, finely diced, see cook’s notes
4 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, peeled, diced
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh sage
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 cup dry white wine
3 quarts chicken broth
3 cups ditalini pasta (tiny tube-shaped pasta)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnish: freshly grated Parmesan cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, chopped Italian parlsey
Cook’s notes: I know it isn’t authentic Italian, but sometimes I substitute pinto beans for cranberry beans. De La Vara prefers Framani smoked uncured pancetta. It is seasoned with a blend of spices and smoked over hickory wood.
1. Place beans in large pot. Cover with cold water, adding enough to cover beans by 2 inches. Soak 6 to 8 hours.
2. Heat large, deep pot over medium-high heat; add oil and pancetta. Lightly brown pancetta, tossing occasionally. Add garlic, onion, celery and carrots. Make a bouquet garni; enclose bay leaves, sage and rosemary in cheesecloth and secure with cotton string. Cook until lightly browned and onions are softened, stirring occasionally.
3. Add wine and broth;scrap up any browned bits on the pot. Increase heat to high and bring to boil; reduce liquid by half in volume. Drain beans and add to pot. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer beans until softened, 1 to 1 1/2 hours (test beans from time to time to see if they are done and are soft throughout). Remove and discard bouquet garni. Remove 1/3 of soup and puree until smooth either in blender or food processor. Return puree to pot. Or, use an immersion blender to puree about 1/3 of the soup.
4. Add pasta; simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes or until pasta is cooked al dente. Season with salt and pepper to taste (not too much salt because cheese is salty). Ladle into bowls. Top each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons grated cheese, 1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon chopped parsley.
Source: Christian De La Vara, executive chef at Brunos Trattoria, Brea

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….Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s ….

A quick-to-prepare Honeyed Strawberry Sauce can turn a simple slice of angel food cake into a scrumptious fruit-spiked dessert.

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A little fruity red wine, a little honey, a little creme de cassis … and voila, the berries take on divine irresistibly.

1/2 cup fruity red wine, such as Beaujolais
3 tablespoons honey
1 to 2 tablespoons creme de cassis (black currant liqueur)
2 cups stemmed, sliced ripe strawberries

Whisk together wine, honey and creme de cassis in medium bowl. Add berries and gently toss. Chill, covered, at least 25 minutes. Serve over angel food cake, pudding, ice cream or custard.

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