Is this a stew, a soup or a pasta? Who cares? This recipe from Russ Parsons is a perfect meal for a fall day when made with fresh cranberry beans, and it works well in winter when made with dried beans. In a pinch, you could even substitute well-drained canned beans. Charring the tomatoes gives a slight smoky quality to this stew and intensifies the tomato flavor as well. You don't need to push the idea too far, just let the tomatoes scorch enough to flavor them.
3 plum tomatoes 2 ounces prosciutto, minced 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 carrot, diced 1/2 onion, diced 1 clove garlic, minced 1 small sprig sage 1 pound cranberry beans, shelled (about 1 1/2 cups) 1 1/2 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 pound dried pasta shapes, like gnocchi or medium shells 2 tablespoons torn basil leaves
Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and place cut-side-down on hot griddle. Cook until tomato begins to blacken and char, about 5 minutes. Turn over and repeat on opposite side, another 3 minutes. Cool, squeeze out seeds, chop and reserve.
In large saute pan over medium heat, cook prosciutto in oil until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add carrot, onion and garlic, reduce heat and cook, covered, until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.
Add sage, cranberry beans, tomatoes, water and salt. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook, covered, until beans are soft, about 30 minutes.
When beans are done, cook pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water. Drain well and add to beans. Raise heat to high and cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes to meld flavors. Divide among 4 pasta plates and garnish with torn basil.
Makes 4 servings.