1 lb. dried great northern beans (white beans); OR
4 20-oz. cans of Cannellini beans
6 oz. Pancetta OR very lean bacon, finely diced
1/4 c. olive oil
1 c. finely chopped onion
1 c. finely chopped celery
1 Tbs. minced fresh basil OR 1 tsp. crumbled dried basil
2 tsp.salt, divided
1 tsp. milled black pepper (or regular pepper)
1-1/2 qts. (6 c.) chicken broth
2 c. ditalini, or any short tubular pasta
1 tsp. salt
3 T. minced parsley
Freshly grated Romano OR Parmigiano cheese
If using dried beans, spread in a single layer on a large plate and discard any bits of foreign matter. Place beans in large bowl, cover with 5 c. of cold water and soak overnight.
Drain beans and place in a large pot. Add 10 c. of cold water, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer beans and cook until tender, about 1 hour. (Beans can be cooked up to 2 days in advance, transferred to a bowl or jars along with cooking liquid, and refrigerated until needed.)
In an 8-qt. pot, sauté the pancetta (or bacon) in olive oil over medium heat until soft, but not brown (about 3 minutes). Add onion and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until soft, but not brown (about 5 minutes). Add basil and 1 tsp. salt and pepper. Add chicken broth, cover pot, and bring to a boil.
Drain the beans, add to soup, cover pot, and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in 4 quarts boiling water with 1 tsp. of salt until al dente. Drain pasta and add to soup. Stir in minced parsley before serving and sprinkle with freshly grated cheese.