It can be tough to find dishes that, at their roots, are meatless. Oftentimes we vegetarian recipe developers find ourselves busily creating meat-free versions of meaty favorites.
But pasta e fagioli – which literally translates to “pasta and beans” – is an Italian peasant dish traditionally made with inexpensive, vegetarian ingredients. So I added meat to half of it. I’m so difficult that way.
I’ve been wanting to adapt pasta e fagioli for the Crock Pot for awhile, and this Slow Cooker Vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli Soup seemed like a natural variation. Sturdy kidney beans, carrots, and cabbage mingle with tomatoes and Italian-seasoned veggie broth for a warm, comforting dinner.
If your garden’s overflowing (finally!) with zucchini like ours is, you might throw some of that in there, too.
A little pasta and, if you desire, cooked ground beef thrown in to a portion at the end for the meat-eaters, and you’re good to go.
Something for everyone.
There’s a school of thought out there that onion and garlic should be sauteed before being added to the slow cooker, because sometimes the end result can taste funny. I’ve spent a fair (possibly embarrassing) amount of time pondering and testing this. Because why add that extra work to slow cooker recipe preparation if it’s not necessary?
My conclusion is that for most super-hearty chilis and stews, a quick pre-saute isn’t necessary. But for brothy soups or recipes where very developed flavors and spices are important, it can make a difference. Although the biggest difference is the smell! When you add the onion and garlic raw, when you lift that lid toward the end of the process, your food can smell a little funky. Not bad! But you can just tell if you didn’t cook it up first. It still tastes okay, though – the flavors just aren’t quite as developed.
For this soup, I actually made two versions at the same time – one with pre-cooked onions and garlic, and one where I just dumped everything in. Then my guy and I did a little taste test. I preferred the one with sauteed onion – but I also knew which one it was, so it could have been mental. My guy went in blind – he had no idea which was which – and he slightly preferred the one that started with raw onions!
So I wrote this recipe to include the saute at the beginning of the process – but if you’d rather dump ’em in raw, it won’t make a huge difference in the end result.
Slow Cooker Vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli Soup (with Optional Ground Beef)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion (diced)
- 2 medium cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black poepper
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1/2 small green cabbage (finely chopped (4 cups))
- 3 medium carrots (peeled and diced (1 cup))
- 1 medium zucchini (diced (optional))
- 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup small pasta of your choice
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Additional salt and pepper to taste
- Optional toppings: Fresh basil and/or parsley (drizzle of olive oil, shredded Parmesan cheese)
If adding ground beef to half:
- 1/2 pound lean ground beef
If adding ground beef to all:
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- Drizzle the olive oil into a large saute pan set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring once or twice, for 1 minute. Splash in about 1/2 cup of the vegetable broth and scrape up any bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour into slow cooker.
- To the slow cooker, add remaining vegetable broth, cabbage, carrots, zucchini if using, beans, and tomatoes. (If you're adding 1 pound ground beef to the entire batch, you can cook and drain ground beef well and add it now.) Cook for 8 hours on low (5-6 hours on high should also do the trick).
- 30 minutes before the cooking process ends, add pasta and put lid back on the Crock Pot.* Continue cooking on low until tender.
- *At this point, if you're adding ground beef to half, set a large saucepan over medium heat, add the 1/2 pound ground beef, and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 10-15 minutes. Drain any excess fat. Transfer a little less than half the soup to the pan with the ground beef and let simmer, covered, until pasta is completely tender and soup is heated through.
- Stir in red wine vinegar (divide between separate pots if doing the half-meaty version) and taste. Add additional salt and pepper if desired.
- Serve topped with chopped parsley and/or basil, a drizzle of olive oil, and pass with Parmesan cheese if desired.