Including a Parmesan rind during cooking adds a complexity and depth of flavor to this stew. Hold on to your rinds instead of tossing them; they can be wrapped in plastic and kept in your refrigerator to add to soups, stews and sauces during cooking. Just discard before serving.
- 1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
- 2 carrots, finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 8 ounces dry white beans, such as cannellini, rinsed and picked over
- 6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with a piece of kitchen twine
- 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage links (4 to 6 links)
- One 14.5-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 chunk Parmesan rind, optional, plus grated Parmesan, for serving
- 1/2 cup ditalini pasta
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Crusty bread, for serving
Spread the onions over the bottom of a 6- to 7-quart slow cooker and top with the carrots, garlic, white beans, thyme bundle and sausage links. Mix the diced tomatoes with the broth and 3 cups water and pour over the sausages. Add the Parmesan rind if using.
Cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours; the beans will be tender and begin to fall apart. Uncover the slow cooker, remove and discard the thyme bundle and Parmesan rind and transfer the sausage links to a cutting board. Stir the pasta into the stew and continue to cook, covered, until the pasta is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Turn off the heat. Cut the sausages into bite-size pieces and stir into the stew along with the parsley and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan on the side for sprinkling on top and crusty bread for soaking up the broth.
Cook's Note: This stew is also a great way to use up leftover cooked pasta. Simply omit the ditalini, reduce the water by 1 cup and stir 1 cup of cooked pasta (cut up if long noodles) into the finished stew along with the sausage pieces.