In the area of Reggio Emilia, the consumption of polenta started spreading at the end of the XVIII century, when corn, imported from America and grown in Italy only from 1600 on, became one of the most common cultures grown in the fertile valley of Emilia, together with rice. As old people still remember, up to the ‘50s polenta was eaten almost daily by people from the country, because it could fill the belly without being a burden on the family low income. Thus it was eaten for breakfast, mixed with milk and sugar, but also for lunch and dinner, matched by cold-cuts, cheese and meat, when available.
In Cazzagai, polenta is mixed with beans, stir fried with onions and little tomato sauce. It can be eaten warm, but traditionally it is let cool and then cut in thick slices, that are fried in a pan till they get a crispy surface.
The name Cazzagai is due to the legend about the origin to this recipe. An evening, a rezdora was warming up some steamed beans in a pot on a stove. While bringing the pot to the table, she dropped into the cat, who was relaxing by the stove, and all beans ended in the polenta that was cooking in it fireplace. Forced to choose whether skipping dinner or accepting the risk, her hunger won and the revisited polenta enjoyed a great success among the rezdora’s family.
The news spread among relatives and friends, and Cazzagai recipe was handed down in the country of Reggio Emilia till reaching us today.