1½ pounds dried chickpeas, cannellini or great northern beans, soaked overnight (or six 15-ounce cans of beans; if using skip to Step #2 and replace bean cooking liquid with water)
4 garlic cloves (2 crushed and 2 minced)
2 bay leaves
15 black peppercorns
A mix of herbs, such as sage, rosemary, thyme and/or parsley stems (optional)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 medium yellow onions, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste or 2 anchovy fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup tubetti or other small pasta
Handful of store-bought cracklins
1. Cook the dried beans: Drain the beans in a colander, rinse well under cold water and transfer to a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover by 3 inches. Tie the crushed garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, peppercorns and herbs, if using, in a cheesecloth sachet or tea bag. Add them to the water, along with a drizzle of olive oil. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes. Add several pinches of salt and simmer until just tender, 10 to 30 minutes more, depending on the freshness of the dried beans. Season the cooking liquid to taste with salt. Let beans cool in the cooking liquid. (Removing them from hot water will make them crack. Cooling them in the cooking liquid also gives them time to absorb the salt. Store in the fridge in their liquid.) When ready to use, strain the beans, reserve the liquid and discard the sachet. Set aside 8 cups of beans for the soup; save remaining for a later use.
2. Make the soup: Place a large wide pot over medium heat. Add ½ cup olive oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the onions and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add two big pinches of salt, the minced garlic and remaining bay leaf and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic fragrance mellows, about 2 minutes more. Add the tomato paste or anchovies (tomato paste will make the soup a pink color) and stir until dissolved into the onions. Add 6 cups of beans, and stir to coat in the oil. Add 5 cups of bean cooking liquid. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
3. Purée the soup until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the soup is thick, add some more bean cooking liquid to loosen it. Stir in the remaining 2 cups of beans. Just before serving, bring the soup to a boil, add the pasta (there needs to be enough liquid in the soup to cook the pasta, so add about ½ cup of bean cooking liquid as needed) and simmer, stirring often, until al dente. If the soup thickens too much, add a little more cooking liquid to loosen. Taste and season as needed with more salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of cracklins.