Bettina’s Stranguggi from The Pasta Grannies Comfort Cooking Cookbook
Recipes excerpted with permission from Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking by Vicky Bennison, published by Hardie Grant Books September 2022.
‘When I was young, I was cute,’ Bettina twinkled as she shared a tiny, hazy photo of herself. ‘Boys would stand beneath my balcony in the evenings and serenade me. If I didn’t like them, I’d pretend not to hear. Of course, if they were handsome, now that was a different story!’ Bettina married her singing beau, Carlo, at the age of 20. They first met at a party celebrating the vendemmia (grape harvest).
Bettina comes from a family of tenant farmers, with five brothers and sisters. She had her list of jobs to do from a young age, such as fetching water and wood for the oven. She made bread for the family every week, while on the farm she helped with the olive and grape harvests. When her husband went to Switzerland to work, Bettina stayed at home raising her family and continuing with olive picking for the next 30 years.
She lives in Cortale, Calabria, where the cannellina bianca bean has a Slow Food Presidium to promote it. Bettina likes to use this variety because the bean cooks well; it is thin-skinned and has a slightly floury texture. Ordinary white cannellini beans are a good swap.
Bettina's Stranguggi: Cortale Bean & Pasta Soup from Calabria
Prep time: 2 Hours, plus overnight soaking
Cook time: 45 Minutes
For the pasta:
200 grams (1 ⅔ cups) semolina flour
100 grams (⅔ cup) 0 or all-purpose flour
135-150 ml (½–⅔ cup) warm water
For the soup:
300 grams (10 ½ oz) dried white cannellini beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water with 1 teaspoon salt
olive oil, q.b.
1 large onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, including the leaves, chopped
1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) trimmed leafy greens such as chicory, Swiss chard or cabbage (any sturdy green will do)
400 grams (14 oz) passata (strained, stewed tomatoes)
extra virgin olive oil
Cook the soaked beans: drain and add them to a large pan of lightly salted boiling water until tender but not mushy. How long they take to cook will depend on the freshness of your beans, but allow at least 1 hour. Leave them undrained in the pan until you need them.
To make the pasta dough, sift the two flours into a large bowl and add a good pinch of salt. Pour 135 ml (41⁄2 fl oz/ generous 1⁄2 cup) of the water into the flour, then with firm hands mix the two together to form a dough ball. Use the rest of the water only if you really can’t get the dough to form after smooshing and squeezing for a good minute or two. Semolina flour has a tendency to trick novices into thinking one needs more hydration than is necessary, so expect the dough to feel dry until you have worked it for a bit.
When you have formed a pasta ball, place it on your board and knead it for 5 minutes until it is smooth and slightly bouncy. You can use it right away, but if you want to make the bean soup first, place it in a covered bowl to stop it from drying out.
Bettina uses a marvelous flat-bottomed reed tray to make the pasta, which one finds across all of southern Italy. A gnocchi board is a good substitute and if you don’t have one of those, try the back of a cheese grater; the result is bobbly, not ridged, but it tastes the same.
Cut off a small piece of dough and put the rest back in the bowl to keep it from drying out. Roll the piece of dough into a strand about the thickness and length of a pencil. Cut squares of dough from the strand and, using your thumb, press a piece down onto the ridged surface, flattening and rolling it as you go. You’ll end up with a curl. Repeat. And get friends and family involved to speed the process up.
To make the soup, heat a good slug of olive oil in a large casserole or Dutch oven over medium heat and heap in the onion and celery. Give everything a good stir, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes. While the celery and onion are softening, slice up the greens. Pour the passata onto the soffritto and simmer for 20 minutes, then scoop out the cooked beans from their pot and add them, along with the greens. Add some bean water if needed, to keep everything soupy. The bean water can now be discarded. Continue to simmer the mixture for 10 minutes or so until the leaves are tender.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente; this will take about 5 minutes once the water has returned to the boil. Drain the cavatelli, then scoop them into the bean sauce, stir well to combine everything, then serve in hot plates with peperoncino and extra-virgin olive oil poured generously over.
Vicky Bennison is the creator of the highly successful ‘Pasta Grannies’, which has nearly two million followers across YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Vicky‘s first book, based on its success, has been translated into 6 languages; it won a James Beard Award, the equivalent of the food Oscars in America, for Best Single Subject in 2019; and the German translation was awarded Silver medal by the prestigious Gastronomischen Akadamie Deutschlands. Vicky has made live TV appearances on the Rachael Ray Show in America and BBC Breakfast in the UK, and been profiled in the New York Times, Financial Times and Sunday Times among many others. Disney Pixar asked Vicky to support the global launch of their animation Luca, a story of friendship and shared love of pasta. When not travelling through Italy filming grandmothers, Vicky likes gardening and spending time with her family and grandson, Raff.