For the Beans
¾ pound dried cannellini beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Sauce
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces slab or thick-cut bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
7 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery , with leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons tomato paste
For Cooking and Dressing Malefante
1½ pounds Malefante, see recipe for Fresh Malefante
1 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
Drain the soaked beans and put them in a pot with fresh cold water covering them by an inch or so; add the bay leaves and olive oil. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to keep the liquid simmering steadily, and cook, partially covered, about 40 minutes or until the beans are just cooked through, but not mushy. Turn off the heat, stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let the beans cool in the pot with the cooking liquid.
Set a big pan over medium heat, and add the olive oil. Scatter in the bacon, and let cook until the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced garlic, and let sizzle for a minute, then stir in the celery. Cook until the celery begins to soften, about 4 to 5 minutes. Clear a space in the pan, and drop in the tomato paste; let it caramelize in the hot spot for a minute or two, then stir the paste into the celery and bacon. Pour in the cooked beans with their cooking liquid, stir well, and pour in a cup or more of water to cover all the solids with enough sauce liquid. (If you want the dish to have a soupier consistency when finished, add 2 or more cups water now.) Bring the sauce to a simmer, and cook until the celery is tender and the beans are creamy, about 20 minutes, stirring in more water as needed to keep the beans and bacon immersed (or to maintain a soupier consistency). When the sauce is done, turn off the heat, and keep the sauce covered until you start cooking the malefante.
Meanwhile, as the sauce is cooking (or later if you prefer), fill a large pot with well-salted water and heat to a rolling boil. For a whole large batch of malefante, heat at least 7 or even 8 quarts of water with 1 1/2 tablespoons salt. Shake the malefante by handfuls in a colander or strainer to remove the excess flour, then drop all the pieces into the boiling pasta water at the same time; stir and separate them with a spider or tongs so they don't stick together. Cover the pot, bring the water back to a boil over high heat, and cook the malefante, stirring frequently, for 4 minutes or so, until al dente. Lift out the malefante with a spider, drain for a moment, and spill them into the simmering sauce, working quickly. Toss pasta and sauce until all the strips of pasta are coated. Adjust the consistency of the dish, adding more pasta water if you want it looser, or thickening it quickly over high heat. Turn off the heat, sprinkle a cup or so of grated cheese over the malefante, and toss well. Heap it into warm pasta bowls, and serve immediately, with more cheese at the table.