Anna’s Cresc’tajat with Beans
Author, "Pasta Grannies"
"Anna lives in a converted watermill, now her B&B, where silk-makers used to come and wash their material. We visited her when the building was wreathed in wisteria flowers and with the background sounds of rushing water over pebbles and the shouts of paddling holiday makers enjoying National Liberation Day. Anna is a keen cook who enjoys sharing the traditional recipes of the Pesaro and Urbino area with her guests. Cresc’tajat (pronounced cresh-tie-et) is a fine example of frugal cooking. It used to be made with leftover polenta (cornmeal) and served with stewed wild greens or beans, which is what Anna made for us.
Lardo is cured pork fat; if you can’t find it in an Italian deli, then use pancetta or mince up some unsmoked streaky bacon instead." — James Beard Award Winner Vicky Bennison
For the pasta:
- 200 grams (7 ounces) instant polenta (cornmeal)
- 100 grams (3 ½ ounces) 00 flour or plain (all-purpose) flour
For the beans:
- 250 grams (9 ounces) dried borlotti (cranberry) beans
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery stick
- 50 grams (2 ounces) lardo or fatty pancetta
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 meaty, top-quality fresh sausage, skin removed (but not discarded) and crumbled
- 200 grams (7 ounces) passata (sieved tomatoes)
- 50 grams (2 ounces) grated Pecorino
- Extra-virgin olive oil
The day before you want to serve this dish, make the polenta according to the packet instructions. The polenta will stiffen up as it cools and, before using it, it should be cold and firm, but you should still be able to cut it with a fork. You want about 300 grams (10 ounces) cooked weight.
Soak the beans for 8 hours or overnight—place them in a bowl and cover with enough water to submerge them by several centimeters (at least a couple of inches). Drain them and then simmer in a pan of water with the carrot and celery (this helps to flavor the broth) until the beans are cooked through. How long they take to cook will depend on the freshness of your beans, but it will be around 45 minutes to 1 hour. Keep them in their broth to one side while you make the pasta.
Mash the cooked polenta with the flour and then knead until smooth and you cannot see any streaks of flour. Divide the dough into 3 pieces and shape each piece into a patty. Keeping them well floured, roll them out as you would pastry—aim for about 2 to 3 mm thick. Slice into broad strips (about 4 cm or 1 ½ inches wide), then cut along the strips on the diagonal to create small diamond shapes.
To prevent the pasta sticking together, Anna places the pieces in a single layer on a tray and pops them into the freezer until ready to cook.
Mince the lardo or pancetta by chopping it with a mezzaluna or a sharp, heavy knife. Heat it with the oil over a moderate heat and fry the onion until soft, which will take about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Fry the sausage meat in the onion mixture until browned, which will take another 5 minutes or so, and then pour in the passata, along with a couple of ladles of the bean broth. Season with salt and leave everything to simmer for a good 15 minutes. If you like, you can put the pork skin in at this stage to add some extra flavor.
Strain the beans and add these to the tomato sauce to warm through.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, add some salt, and return the water to the boil. Take your cresc’tajat from the freezer and tip them directly into the water. When they bob to the surface, they are ready. Using a sieve or slotted spoon, scoop the pasta from the water and stir it through the bean mixture.
Serve immediately and let everyone sprinkle their own plates with cheese and drizzle with oil.
Recipe excerpted with permission from Pasta Grannies by Vicky Bennison, published by Hardie Grant Books October 2019, RRP $29.99 Hardcover.