May 18th, 2011

Border Beans and Pasta: flageolets, ditalini, May garden veggies, pancetta


Several years ago, Bill and I spent a week in Menton, France, a small town on the French Riviera. Like many places dotting the Cote d’Azur, it is both port, and tourist destination. Part of the Alpes-Maritime department, Menton is at the sheltered base of the Alps, with a unique micro-climate favorable to citrus. Lemons abound! There are beautiful homes and lush gardens built into mountainside.This community has a charming pedestrian-only town center, pretty beaches, and mosaic-like promenades along the waters edge.

And while it does have an Old World aristocratic beauty, it doesn’t possess the same haute nature as its neighbor, the chi-chi Monte Carlo. We found it be more family-oriented, and mainly French and Italian families at that.


It was a lovely place to be. We were lucky to find a room in a modest but pleasant hotel across from one of the smooth-stoned beaches. Mornings began under the canopied patio with a carafe of coffee, baskets of croissants, butter, and Bonne Maman preserves. Days were spent floating in the buoyant Mediterranean, or exploring the Old City, or hiking up the lavender-laced hillsides. What a view! Sometimes you couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began.

Menton is only a couple of kilometers from the Italian border. One evening, after dinner, I said, “Let’s walk to Italy.”


In no time our stroll took us to the douane, the abandoned checkpoint separating the countries in the pre-EU era. The toll-gate style structure looked like it had built in the early Sixties, and you could imagine the lines of cars, people with passports in hand, getting their stamp of approval to enter.

We walked a little further towards the Ligurian town, Ventimiglia. Sometimes, crossing borders, you sense an immediate difference between one country and the next. But not so here. There was a melding of French and Italian sensibilities.

I was reminded of our French walk to Italy when I made this tasty dish. It, too, blurs the Franco-Italian borders.


Have you cooked with Flageolets? These delicate beans are French, cultivated immature kidney beans that are white and pale green in color. They have a firm yet creamy texture, and are the bean of choice for cassoulet. What I’ve created is a sort of Provencal version of Pasta e Fagioli, flavored with spring green vegetables from the garden, seasoned with fresh thyme, and flecked with savory bits of crisp pancetta. It’s simply delicious-delicieux-delizioso!


The Beans:
1 cup dried Flageolets, rinsed and soaked for an hour
3 cloves Garlic, minced
1 small white Onion, chopped
2 T. Olive Oil
a few sprigs of Fresh Thyme

Heat the olive oil in a 3 qt. saucepan and saute the garlic and onions for a couple of minutes. Season with sea salt. Stir in the flageolets, and let them get coated with sauteed mixture. Add water, covering the beans by 2-3 inches. Stir in a few sprigs of fresh thyme, cleaned tops of the leeks (see below), cover, and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours, checking periodically on water level. The beans will become cooked throughout, and will be soft, but intact.

1/2 bundle of Swiss Chard, cleaned and sliced thin, into ribbons
1 Leek, cleaned and chopped (reserve cleaned tops to season bean broth)
1/2 lb. Sugar Snaps, chopped on the bias
Olive Oil
Red Pepper Flakes

1 cup Ditalini (or another small pasta shape) “small thimbles”

A good Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, for finishing
Fresh Thyme for garnish
A few pieces of crispened Pancetta

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet and saute leeks, chard, and sugar snaps. Season with salt and red pepper flakes. Saute until chard is collapsed and tender, about 5 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and combine with sauteed vegetables.

When Flageolets are tender, remove from heat. There should be a little cooking liquid in the pot.
Combine beans and pasta in large bowl. Stir in bits of pancetta. If you are vegan, omit this step!
Drizzle with a good finishing olive oil, garnish with fresh thyme and serve.

Serves 4

COOK’S NOTES: You can find Flageolets under the Roland label, (at Whole Foods) or order them, along with other fabulous heirloom beans, from Ranch Gordo. You can substitute cannellini or navy beans if you like.


Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes

18 Responses to “Border Beans and Pasta: flageolets, ditalini, May garden veggies, pancetta”
  1. Nancy Says:

    What a fantastic celebration of spring — a wonderful recipe, and such a lovely story behind it. I think I will be adding a bag of flageolets to my next order from RG!

  2. Faith Says:

    Such beautiful memories linked with this lovely dish! I haven’t cooked with those beans but I will be on the lookout for them!

  3. Tracy Says:

    This looks so comforting. I love any pasta that needs to be eaten with a spoon. You don’t know how hungry this is making me :)

  4. Juliana Says:

    Nancy, this pasta/bean salad with all the veggies in it looks absolutely delicious…so hearty and very comforting. Lovely meal! Hope you are having a great week :-)

  5. Michele Napoli Says:

    This my kind of dish. I hope it brings back memories of that wonderful trip each time you eat it.

  6. Barbara Says:

    I am really excited to prepare this one. I think the hubby will like everything in it and it looks easy to put together. I may need you to get some of the flageolet beans for me the next time you go to whole foods. This looks wonderful!

  7. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Tracy–the pasta/spoon thing–yes! that’s why I’ve been cooking with
    the ditalini so much lately. love the little bites.

    Barbara–you would also enjoy ordering a variety of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo—delivered right to your door. This is a heart-healthy dish, perfect for your fam!

  8. Barbara Says:

    Your Menton vacation sounds lovely, Nancy. And what fun you could walk to Italy.
    Yes, I’ve cooked with flageolets, but only once when I was making a true cassoulet. This recipe sounds wonderful. I love that little pasta shape and with the chard, leeks and sugar snaps, it’s a super healthy combo.

  9. My Little Expat Kitchen Says:

    These beans look very much like the kind of beans we use in Greece for fasolada soup.
    I love the marriage of beans with pasta but have never cooked it myself. I need to!

  10. Fluffy Says:

    my mouth is watering

    love it

  11. rhonda Says:

    looks scrumdiddlyumptious ;-)

  12. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Flageolet beans are my favorite! I loved “Let’s walk to Italy.” Nancy, you know how to have fun.

  13. Karen Says:

    Molto delizioso! You have so perfectly captured the simplicity of Mediterranean cooking with these wonderful two dishes. The ditalini look particularly enticing. I love how you described walking across the border to Italy. :-) Great post, Nancy!

  14. blackbookkitchendiaries Says:

    how lovely!! i cant wait to make some already:)

  15. Joyti Says:

    What a gorgeous use of spring’s bounty! It looks so delicious, and so perfect for an al fresco Mediterranean meal.

  16. Mélange Says:

    That,I feel is the perfect blend of spring in a bowl ! Ravishing recipe to check.

  17., Teresa Blackburn Says:

    This looks so yummy and healthy and just the kind of thing I like to eat these days. This recipe is beautifully textural with ingredients that are very easy to find, seasonal and all mixed in with the sweet little ditalini…Perfection in a bowl.

  18. Greedy Rosie Says:

    Wow. That pasta does look so great. For a starch lover like me, its a good combination (although, there is NO WAY I’d find ditalini in any of the stores around here!). I didn’t know about flageolet beans being immature kidney beans – they’re so much nicer1

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