Pasta Fagioli...a delicious Italian soup just like Olive Garden!

I love Italian food, next to just good southern food, it's probably my favorite to both cook and eat.  Unfortunately, in our city, which is actually very diverse to be in southern Kentucky, we lack what I would call good authentic Italian know those owned and ran by Italians.   We do have Olive Garden, which I realize is not what you would call authentic Italian, but I still really love it.   However, my family does not love it.  My husband and my son, when he lived at home, didn't like to eat there.  The only time I ate there was with my co-workers.  We usually went at lunchtime and we loved to get their unlimited soup and salad special.  The pasta fagioli was always a favorite.  I actually get cravings for this soup.  So, one day I decided to replicate it at home. 

 There were some copycat recipes on the internet and I just started experimenting with them and adapted them until I think I got it down.   The really funny thing is, my husband loves this pasta fagioli that I make at home, but says he doesn't like it at Olive Garden...makes no sense to me, but I will tell you what I think is the key difference as I go through the steps of making it.

I made this batch in the slow cooker, but you can make it just as easily in a dutch oven or soup pot on the stove.   I also used ground beef, but if you like a little more spice you can use  half ground beef and half Italian sausage.  

 Here is what you will need:

1 1/2 - 2 lb. ground chuck
1 20 oz. jar of Spaghetti sauce ( I used Ragu Basil and Sundried Tomato, which is so good in this)
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning
4 beef bullion cubes
1 medium onion diced
1 Tbs. minced garlic
2 cups sliced celery (about 4 large stalks)
2 cups carrots cut in matchstick pieces or diced (about 4 carrots)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil  (or 2 tsp. dried)
1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano  (or 2 tsp. dried)
1 15 oz. can white beans (Great Northern or Cannellini)
1 15 oz can light red kidney beans
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. brown sugar (this is the secret ingredient I add that Olive Garden probably doesn't)
dash of Tabasco (optional, leave it out if you don't like a little heat)
6 cups of water
8 oz. ditalini pasta (can use elbow macaroni if you can't get the ditalini, Bertolli makes a ditalini pasta)
Shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese for garnish

Brown the ground beef (ground beef and Italian sausage, onion and  minced garlic in a skillet.  Drain any excess grease.

Slice the celery and cut the carrots into matchsticks.  You can purchase the carrots already cut like this if you short on time.

Place the ground beef in the slow cooker you have sprayed with nonstick spray for easier cleanup.  Place the vegetables over the beef.

Add the spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, beans, all of the herbs and seasonings to the slow cooker and give it a stir.   Add the bullion cubes and additional water and stir again.  Set for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high.  You won't need to do anything until the time is up.  Prepare your pasta according the package directions minus 1 minute of cooking.   Drain it and either add it to the soup or place 1/2 cup in a soup bowl and pour the hot soup over it.   I like to serve it like this because the pasta stays al dente.  With the left overs, I just add the remainder of the pasta to the soup  and mix to store in the refrigerator.

I like to sprinkle the top of the soup with shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese and serve with hot bread sticks.
Cooking tip:  I add brown sugar to this and to most any Italian red sauce I cook I add just a pinch of brown sugar or white sugar.  It sort of cuts the tartness of the tomato sauce and I think it's why my husband and son like my Italian food better than some others they have eaten.  It's not all that noticeable to anyone who doesn't know it, but you can tell when it's left out. 


  1. Hi Kathy! This is my first time to visit your blog. I couldn't find a contact button or an "about page" so forgive me for reaching out via this comment. Are you a member of the Kentucky Food Bloggers group? I did not see you on the list. You should join us on facebook. Lively discussions, great blogging tips, and inside scoops on Kentucky food events. Joyce

  2. Hi Joyce! I am a member of the KY Food Bloggers, but thank you for asking. I need to be more active on there. I just started this blog in March and it is keeping me really busy, which is good. I have been a little surprised by how it has taken off, but I am loving every minute of it. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Hi,Kathy,
    I'm from Florida. I love Olive Garden & your recipe looks & sounds "deelishus". Am going to give it a try.
    Also, this is my first time visiting your blog.

  4. I am a terrible cook as my ex-husband and kids will tell you. These recipes are so easy that I am getting compliments on my meals ! thank you so much.

  5. When I read this recipe I wanted some so bad I made it immediately with what I had on hand. Hubby and I agree this is the best soup I've ever made; and I've made a lot in my 66 tears. Its much better than Olive Garden's.
    I left some things out because we had a family
    emergency while I was cooking so I just left it to cook.
    After eating 3 bowls I came back to the recipe and realized I had deviated from the recipe more than I realized. I used a lot of black pepper instead of Tabasco. The spicyness was perfect. I used beans I had cooked instead of canned and I totally forgot the pasta because the crockpot was full to the top so there was no room anyway, This makes a lot.
    I used the 23.9oz. Ragu Robusto with Sweet Italian Sausage and Cheese because it was what I had on hand. I also used 28 oz. Del Monte Diced T\omatos with Basil, Garlic and Oregano for the same reason, so I didn't use the fresh herbs because I didn't have them. I used the whole package of slivered carrots. We ate it before the time was up so the carrots and celery were still a little crunchy which we loved. We forgot the cheese too.
    I can't wait to see if its better the next day. I may have it for breakfast. I WILL take your recipe with me to the grocery and make it just like yours soon. I'll definitely take this to potlucks. Even though I didn't follow your recipe to the letter, thank you so much for sharing it.

  6. This month and next I will be putting up soup for the pantry to be eaten next fall/winter. Hopefully this delicious sounding soup will make it that far! Thank you for the recipe.... this will be my next project.

  7. Is the tablespoon of minced garlic in this recipe fresh garlic or dried minced garlic in a jar? Sorry if you specified this somewhere; I may have overlooked it. Thanks!

  8. Made this today and it was perfect. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Kathy, this soup looks awesomely delicious!

    I have stumbled upon so many good recipe ideas here. Thank you for sharing so generously :D

    Chris(tine) from FB

  10. I used an entire large can of V-8 juice instead of spaghetti sauce and cook it down forever. It tastes closer to the original.

  11. Hi, Is there a way to print your recipes? I always share them and have to go back and look them up to make them. It wuld be so much easier if I could just print them. Thank you

    1. Carolyn, If you look right above each post, you will see a green button that says 'printer friendly' on it. Click on that and it change the post to a pdf document that is easy to print. You can even click on the 'remove images' at the top and take the pictures out.

  12. Are you supposed to drain and rinse the beans first???

    1. You don't have to, but I usually do. I think it just tastes better.

  13. if we use a regular pan how long do we cook it ?

  14. I haven't tried the pinch of brown sugar to my red sauces, but I will. Someone also taught me to use a pinch of cinnamon in red sauces...I thought it was crazy, but ever since, I use it every time as a secret one can taste it, but it makes a delicious difference.

  15. I could have written this blog! My favorite food in all the world is Italian. Soup and salad at Olive Garden is a favorite with Pasta Fagioli being the only soup I order. When I made this recipe I used the exact ingredients. It is the most delicious Pasta Fagioli I have ever eaten. Thank you again for sharing! Now could be duplicate those bread sticks, lol. :)

  16. I hate buying a bag of carrots or a stalk of celery for the use in a recipe and wind up wasting the remainder. My solution is the salad bars in a local grocery store. Yes the cost per ounce is higher but when factored against wastage it is more economical for me. I also use it to get small amounts of broccoli, cheese etc. to stuff a baked potato,



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