Everybody loves to eat out at restaurants. It is always fun when you can find recipes for your favorite chain restaurant staples. Plus, it’s so much less expensive to make your favorites at home, not to mention you can tweak the recipe and make it exactly the way you want it. I love these type of recipes because at home, I have complete control over what I put in a dish, and there is no dealing with special orders or seeing if the restaurant kitchen can even alter a dish to be say dairy free. With no teeth, I also find at home I have complete control over how well done or crispy items get, which is necessary in my life without teeth. I have found lots of my restaurant favorites are fairly easy to find online. The great tool that is Google makes it very easy to find recipes for lots of homemade versions of these yummy staples. One of my absolute chain favorites is the Pasta Fagioli soup at Olive Garden (when I can get it without cheese). This was a very easy recipe to find on Google. There were tons of different versions. This is my version that came from several different web variations that I have tweaked to be dairy free, celery free and heavy on the pasta (because that is my favorite part). With lots of practice making this soup, I have also gotten pretty good a making it easy to eat without teeth and most importantly without a blender!
2 lbs ground beef
12 oz chopped onion
14 oz slivered carrots
14 oz diced celery
48 oz diced or crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can red kidney beans
1 14.5 oz can white kidney beans
88 oz beef stock (or you can blend beef and veggie stock)
3 tsp dried oregano
2 ½ tsp cracked black pepper
5 tsp chopped parsley
1 ½ tsp Tabasco sauce (Optional)
48 oz jarred spaghetti sauce
8 oz dry ditalini pasta
Start by browning the ground beef in a large soup pot (if you make this whole recipe you will need at least a 7 quart soup pot, an 8 quart pot if you like to use more liquid for a brothier soup). I usually drain the excess beef fat before proceeding. Add the chopped carrots, celery and onions and cook until they start to soften, about 10 minutes (I cook them for a lot longer until they are really soft and tongue squishable). Add in the tomatoes and the beans and mix well. Stir in the beef stock and the oregano, pepper and parsley. Bring the pot to a simmer and add the Tabasco if desired as well as the jarred spaghetti sauce (I like using a garlicy Prego) and the dry pasta (any small shaped pasta will work well here). Keep the soup at a low simmer and cook (stirring often) until the pasta and the veggies are tender, usually about 45 minutes. Serve with parmesan cheese for those who want to add it as well as garlic bread or breadsticks (I just use a little margarine and garlic salt on whatever bread we have or I use canned breadsticks). You can also add fried onion strings on top to give the soup a little crunch (I pass on the crunchyness).
This soup is so close to the Pasta Fagioli at Olive Garden and I love the ability to alter this delicious one pot dinner. I usually skip the Tabasco because it bothers my mouth, my husband will add a ton of Tabasco to his bowl anyways ☺ I also skip the celery since I am mildly allergic to it and picking the little pieces out of the soup later is annoying. I use a little more of the carrots and onions to make up for skipping the celery. I have also figured out that it helps to shred the carrots in the food processor and to dice the onion as fine as possible. This helps to get the veggies to cook so they are tender enough that I can gum them easily. A little warning, this recipe makes a ton of soup. My husband and I almost always halve the recipe for fear of having soup for weeks. We have tried freezing this soup and it does work great, and it’s super easy to reheat and use as a quick meal at a later date. If you halve the recipe we have also found that the unused half cans of beans freeze well in a ziplock bag for the next time. A general caution, the pasta will inhale and absorb lots of the broth, so if you like a brothier soup, be prepared to throw in an extra can of beef stock. If you happen to have fresh parsley, it is super yummy here and it makes a pretty garnish. And lastly, I am not a huge bean fan as they are a little tough to eat with no teeth. Occasionally I skip the beans all together and simply use 1.5 times the pasta. I would love to hear of other variations or add-ins that go well with this recipe. Please try this out, then share your variations here!