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making pasta con fagioli ahead

I'm making the food for a friend's wedding (160 people), and everything's going to need to be done the day before, and just reheated and put onto serving platters that day. I was thinking I would make pasta con fagioli: the ingredients aren't too expensive, it'll dress it up if I add good parmesan and cook parmesan rinds into the beans, I can easily make a pot of it for the vegans with no parmesan, and serve some bacon on the side for those who like it.

the only tricky part is that everything needs to be made the day before. Someone else will be in charge of reheating, portioning, and serving, but I can't rely on them to do any cooking. So the pasta has to be cooked in advance. I've thought of a few options, among them

- cooking the pasta to within about 2 minutes of being ready, then shocking and refrigerating it, and reheating with the beans.

- I think I could probably ask the people doing the reheating/serving to add a specified amount of pasta to each pot, then boil until it's cooked (where it would be too much to ask them to make a separate pot of pasta, then combine). I don't know why this seems more realistic (maybe because each pot would be labeled and they don't have to track which pot of pasta goes with which pot of beans?), but it does. the only issue is I'd have to track very carefully how much pasta needed to go in each pot, and make sure everything gets labeled correctly.

- if the budget permits, using fresh pasta, which only needs to cook for a minute or two right before the food gets served. otherwise, I'd probably use dried egg fettucine or tagliatelle.

any advice? this event isn't for a while, but it's the first event like this I've ever done.

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  1. I wouldn't "par" cook the pasta and risk somebody making a mistake you couldn't correct. But if you provided them with fresh, uncooked pasta and told them to bring the main ingredients to a simmer before adding that (in whatever quantities you decide upon) an how long they need to cook it before serving, you might get away with it. Granted, you'll be adding a bit more starch to the dish that way, but it only takes 5 - 7 minutes to cook fresh pasta and if you adjust the liquid to accomodate that you would still be better than finding the've made mush of your par boiled pasta.
    I admire that you have the courage to leave out the parmigiano-reggiano for the vegan crowd, but don't you use sausage or sea food in your normal preparation? I am familiar with a vegetarian version using carrots, pesto, etc., but even that one uses bacon. Bacon served on the side or added to the finished dish will work, but the bacon flavor won't uniformly flavor the dish completely and using it as an "add on" would not be something I'd do. I'd just make an entirely separate dish for those who don't want anything resembling animal protein in their food.

    1. Pasta and fagioli is best served with a small tubular pasta. Cook the pasta al dente the day before, coat and toss with some evoo, then refrigerate. On the next day, just bring out the pasta well in advance and allow it to reach room temperature. The pasta will NOT be gummy at all as long as it was well coated with evoo and tossed. Your pasta will be glistening and well flavored ready to accept your bean mix. Now reheating the beans might be tricky because those will overcook easily and the skins will separate (with boiling) and a whole host of other things can happen. I hate suggesting this, but a microwave might be the best option for reheating your beans rather than opting for the stovetop.

      1. In a ideal world, I would follow todao's advice and cook the pasta to order, adjusting the liquid in your basic beans to accomodate the raw pasta. However, if that's not possible, then cheeseboy's advice about precooking is your only other option. Undercook the pasta by at least 2-3 minutes; for example, if you normally cook pasta for 7 minutes, cook it for 4-5. It should be quite firm with a white center within. Pre-cooked pasta only takes a few minutes to heat up. It will have absorbed some of the olive oil overnight and will be a bit softer than when you first cooked it.
        I would not use fresh pasta for this preparation. You do need to use a short, tubular pasta for authenticity, such as ditali, ditalini or even elbows.

        1. thanks for the suggestions so far. I'd forgotten to worry about the beans splitting, but I'll start now. I can't use a microwave - don't think the kitchen will have one, plus I've never seen a microwave that'd fit dinner for 160. cooking it ahead and only bringing it to room temperature sounds the most foolproof, but would it bring down the temperature of the final dish too much?

          normally, I'd just cook the beans with bacon fat to start with as well as serving some crispy bacon on top. unfortunately, there are going to be vegans and vegetarians and probably some folks who keep kosher (at least enough to avoid pork), so vegetarian beans are probably a better option, and I really don't have the energy to keep track of two entirely separate entrees. I've had fair luck with vegan beans when I've been aggressive about the herbs and the stock base. Never heard of seafood in pasta con fagioli.

          I've used fresh pasta with pasta con fagioli before, and so has my family - I've always assumed my mom picked it up in northern Italy. but it could have been her own idea.

          1 Reply
          1. re: NomadHomebody

            My point about not using fresh pasta in this dish was directed towards holding the cooked pasta overnight; I would not cook fresh pasta in advance. However, if you were to cook it to order, fresh pasta would be fine, as long as the people doing the heating/serving understand that it takes just a few minutes for fresh to finish.

          2. why not make a soup that does not contain pasta and eliminate the variable? the less you leave to other hands, the fewer potential problems.

            3 Replies
            1. re: hotoynoodle

              that's exactly my concern. but the pasta con fagioli would actually be the entree, and it seems festive enough for a wedding, simple enough for me to pull off, and hearty enough to make a main course. I've thought of a couple of other options that fit those requirements (chili with cornbread, enchiladas) but my friend doesn't like them as much. It also turns out that anything that needs to be reheated in the oven is out, because we won't have enough oven space to reheat all the food at once. I'm open to other ideas, I just don't have them myself.

              1. re: NomadHomebody

                what about italian wedding soup? just make the meatballs tiny -- polpettine.

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  the vegetarians and vegans would be sad about that, and italian wedding soup without meatballs is a sad sad thing.