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This vegetarian bean and pasta soup recipe is everything you crave in homemade soup — homey, creamy comfort food that’s easy to make. Full of flavor, the soup is ready to serve in 30 minutes. It’s made with Italian-style pantry ingredients including cannellini beans, canned tomatoes, dried pasta and aromatic herbs. This hearty soup makes a simple lunch or dinner and it smells so good while it simmers on the stovetop!
Of all the foods that never fail to feel completely nourishing, soup recipes are at the top of the list. Included in that category are all the comforting vegetable soups like homestyle minestrone, pasta and chickpea soup and of course, a grandma-style chicken noodle soup that tastes full of love.
The homestyle Italian food I grew up with uses humble ingredients like beans and vegetables, and transforms them into absolutely delicious dishes.
And, a bowl of bean soup with pasta (pasta fagioli) is protein-packed — even without meat — and is a great way to eat well without spending a lot of money.
About the ingredients
- White beans: Naturally starchy white beans are the trick to achieving a thick, hearty texture in the soup without using cream or milk. A portion of the beans are pureed and added back to the soup at the end of cooking, adding a satisfying, velvety texture. Use cannellini beans cooked from scratch, or canned beans. White kidney beans, navy beans or Great Northern beans will all work perfectly.
- Canned tomatoes: I recommend canned whole plum tomatoes or drained diced tomatoes. They add color and tanginess to the soup base.
- Dried pasta: Short pasta shapes are the best choice to use in soups. I love little shells (farfalline), elbows or ditalini. I’ve also successfully made this soup with gluten-free pasta made with chickpea flour.
- Broth + Bean Liquid: Rather than discarding the starchy liquid in the cans of beans, I save it and mix it with broth (or water) for the base of the soup. Use chicken broth, vegetable broth or water to make 3 cups total.
- Red pepper flakes: My starting point is 1/2 teaspoon, but adjust that amount according to your preference.
- Onion + garlic
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Herbs: The broth simmers with Mediterranean bay leaves. Garnish the finished soup with any fresh aromatic herbs you enjoy and have on hand. I like to combine fresh-chopped parsley, rosemary and basil.
- Cheese: Freshly grated Parmesan cheese goes into the soup. If you collect Parmesan rinds, throw one into the pot while the soup simmers!
Here’s a visual guide of the steps required to make a pot of white bean soup:
Seasoning and storing white bean soup
- Add more vegetables: Stir in torn spinach or kale leaves until they wilt into the soup. If you’d like to add diced carrot or celery, cook them along with the onions in step 3.
- Stir in leftover roasted sweet potato cubes or other cooked vegetables once the soup is done.
- This soup makes about six generous servings and keeps up to 5 days in the fridge. To freeze the soup for longer storage, cool it completely, then transfer to storage containers with secure lids (I love these freezer to oven containers).
Italian Bean Soup with Pasta
- 3 14-ounce cans cannellini beans, or other white beans such as navy or Great Northern
- Chicken broth, vegetable broth or water as needed
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper
- 1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes
- 1 whole bay leaf
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup dried short pasta
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for serving
- ¼ cup chopped parsley, basil or rosemary (or a mixture)
- Drain 2 cans of beans into a strainer set over a bowl or large measuring cup. Add enough broth or water to the liquid to measure a total of 3 cups. This is the liquid base of the soup.
- In a food processor, pulse the remaining can of beans (1 ½ cups) along with the can liquid until almost smooth. Alternatively, mash the beans in a bowl with a potato masher or wooden spoon. Set aside until the soup is cooked.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper. Cook until the onion is softened, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.
- Add the whole beans, broth or water mixture, tomatoes, bay leaf and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on the heat to make sure the soup doesn't boil.
- While the soup simmers, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain.
- Stir the pasta, reserved bean puree, cheese and herbs into the soup until combined. Adjust the thickness of the soup by adding more broth, if you like. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Serve the soup in bowls, with additional cheese to taste.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- Rather than draining and discarding the liquid from canned beans, save it and use as a base for the soup. If you’re starting with homemade cooked beans, use 4-5 cups beans and 3 cups total of broth or water.
- Add more vegetables: Stir in torn spinach or kale leaves until they wilt into the soup. If you’d like to add diced carrot or celery, cook them along with the onions in step 3. Or, stir in leftover roasted sweet potato cubes or other cooked vegetables once the soup is done.
- This soup makes about six generous servings and keeps up to 5 days in the fridge. To freeze the soup for longer storage, cool it completely, then transfer to storage containers with secure lids.