Whole-Grain Pasta e Fagioli with Butternut Squash and Sage Pesto

Whole-grain orecchiette or shells star in this makeover of a classic Italian pasta and bean soup. With butternut squash, borlotti beans, and a bright sage pesto, it’s perfect for a chilly evening. And unfortunately here in the Northeast, Winter continues her steady and determined grip on our area, refusing to let Spring usher forth. So we must find ways to counteract the cold…


Borlotti beans, also commonly referred to as the cranberry bean, is a dappled white and red bean related to the kidney and pinto beans. This is a common bean in Italy where it is used for soups and with pasta. Depending on where you live you may have a tough time, like us, finding this bean at your neighborhood grocery store. You can check your local Walmart store which sometimes stocks these beans. What we didn’t know until after the fact was, you can buy them easily enough online at Amazon.com. In a pinch, we substituted it’s cousin, pinto beans.


The sage pesto was the “bomb,” it was sooo good I could’ve eaten it with a spoon! Make sure to swirl a generous amount into your pasta e fagioli. While mine was purposely not as saucy as indicated in the directions, any leftover would be fabulous as a condiment, a sandwich spread, or as a topping for baguettes and crackers. That’s of course, if you have any leftover…

Let’s not overlook the health benefits of butternut squash. Low in fat, it delivers an ample dose of dietary fiber, making it an exceptionally heart-friendly choice. It provides significant amounts of potassium, important for bone health, and vitamin B6, essential for the proper functioning of both the nervous and immune systems. The folate content adds yet another boost to its heart-healthy reputation and helps guard against brain and spinal-cord-related birth defects such as spina bifida.


The squash’s tangerine hue, however, indicates butternut’s most noteworthy health perk. The color signals an abundance of powerhouse nutrients known as carotenoids, shown to protect against heart disease. And, as if that weren’t enough, butternut squash may have anti-inflammatory effects because of its high antioxidant content. Incorporating more of this hearty winter staple into your diet could help reduce risk of inflammation-related disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Feeling better already…

Although I did it the old fashioned way—with a knife—the reason many folks don’t include Winter squashes in their recipes is because they’re a pain to peel, am I right? Yes, you can buy the pre-peeled and diced variety, which can run you upwards of $7 or more per pound at a local grocery store. Compare that to $1.49/lb for the whole squash variety, and you’ve got a very significant savings—the pre-cubed costs over four times more! Well here’s an easy method to peel a whole squash:

  1. Prick the skin of the squash all over with a fork.
  2. Slice off both ends of the squash.
  3. Microwave the squash for about 3½ minutes. This softens the skin considerably.
  4. Let the squash cool enough to handle, or use a towel to hold it, and simply peel away the skin.
That’s it! The skin falls off with very little pressure after a few minutes in the microwave. And don’t worry about overcooking the squash; those few minutes don’t really affect the flesh. Once you’ve peeled with ease, you can cook the squash however you’d like.


Whole-Grain Pasta e Fagioli with Butternut Squash and Sage Pesto

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: moderately easy
  • Print


For the soup

  • Fine sea salt
  • 6 oz. whole-grain orecchiette, small shells, or other small pasta
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 small)
  • 2-1/2 cups diced (1/2 to 3/4 inch) butternut squash
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, preferably homemade
  • 1 15-oz. can borlotti (or cranberry or Roman) beans, rinsed and drained (1-3/4 cups)
  • 1 14-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes with juice, crushed
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the pesto

  • 1 packed cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 to 3 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 medium clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, coarsely grated on the large holes of box grater (1/2 cup); more, finely grated, for serving
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more as needed


Make the soup

  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to package directions until not quite al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium heat until shimmering.
  3. Add the onion and 1/4 tsp. salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the squash and stir to coat with the oil.
  4. Add the parsley, sage, garlic, and pepper flakes, if using, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it is evenly distributed and looks slightly darker, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Add the wine and cook until almost evaporated, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the broth, beans, and tomatoes. Stir well, scraping the bottom of the pot, and simmer until the squash is barely tender, 13 to 15 minutes.
  8. Add the pasta and continue simmering until the squash and pasta are tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Make the pesto and serve

  1. Put the parsley, sage, garlic, and coarsely grated cheese in a food processor. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper and drizzle with the oil.
  2. Pulse until finely chopped, adding more oil if necessary to give it a saucy consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and transfer to a bowl.
  3. Thin the soup with water if desired and add 1/4 tsp. pepper. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.
  4. Divide among soup bowls and spoon 1 to 2 Tbs. pesto on top of each serving. Pass the finely grated cheese at the table.



By Maria Speck from Fine Cooking

2 thoughts on “Whole-Grain Pasta e Fagioli with Butternut Squash and Sage Pesto

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