Calzagatti, paparòcc, pulenta imbrucàda and a host of other curious names. This dish is so ridiculously simple that I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. Cooked yellow polenta is stirred into a savory concoction of borlotti beans, pancetta, onions, tomatoes and seasonings. The name depends on where you find it – if you’re lucky enough to find it – around Modena. Why? Because unless you’re at a sagra or festa in Emilia-Romagna, this meal is straight out of nonna’s kitchen. Every cook will have his or her own way to make this, but the one thing in common is this: the liquid from cooking the beans is used to prepare the polenta.
Now if the title of this post raised a red flag with feline friends it is only because I thought the name had something to do with kitties. Calzagatti (kahl-tzah-GAH-tee). Calza=stocking. Gatti=cats. Put them together and you have stocking cats? After digging a little deeper, the term has nothing to do with stuffed sock cats or Puss in Socks. The story, as told by Sandro Bellei of La Cucina Modenese, goes like this:
A clumsy maid stumbled over the house cat curled up next to the stove and accidentally dropped a ladle of beans into a pot of polenta. Fearing reproach, she didn’t tell the lady of the house, but later received compliments from her guests at lunch. The only one to lose out was the poor cat who had already taken its fair share of kicks, and that is how polenta with beans became “chelzagàt” or calzagatti.
Readers who already know italian should be laughing by now (not at the cat I hope) because calcia means kick and from which comes the dialect terms calza or chelza. How plausible this tale is, who knows, but I can swear to the part about tripping over small furry animals while cooking. My two dogs seem to purposely get in the way so that I end up dropping stuff on the floor and then they immediately close in like sharks. I’ve seen the westie “suck up” grated parmigiano like a 4-legged Hoover vacuum machine. I NEVER kick them.