For the soup:

  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 8 ounces pancetta, small dice
  • 4 cups water, plus more for soaking
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 Parmesan cheese rind (about 2×3 inches, optional)
  • 1 cup dried ditalini pasta or small shells

For serving:

  • 1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • Shaved Parmesan cheese


  1. Prepare the beans for an overnight soak by pouring them out onto rimmed baking sheet or plate. Pick out any debris or broken beans. Transfer the beans to a strainer and rinse under cool water. Place the rinsed beans in a large bowl or 6-quart or larger slow cooker if you don’t need to use it overnight (eliminating one extra dish to wash). Add about 6 cups of cool water. Cover and soak overnight, 10 to 12 hours.
  2. Drain the soaked beans and wipe out the slow cooker insert (if you used it). Return the beans to the slow cooker. Add the 4 cups of water, the bell pepper, onion, pancetta, tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaves, oregano, basil, dried thyme, and Parmesan rind if using. Give everything a swift, hearty stir to combine. Cover and cook until the beans are tender but not falling apart and the broth around the beans has thickened, 5 to 6 hours on the HIGH setting or 10 to 12 hours on the LOW setting.
  3. When the soup is ready, bring a large saucepan over water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and stir into the soup. Remove the bay leaves and Parmesan rind before serving. Top each bowl with fresh thyme and Parmesan.
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