Pasticcio

This is my version of the classic Italian dish Pasticcio, it’s a gratifyingly unctuous dish that’ll happily feed a small army but it’s definitely not fast food, indeed when I make it I normally put aside a whole afternoon, but saying that it isn’t actually difficult to make, just time consuming. The plus point of that is this both freezes and chills well so if you make it in advance you could save it for those midweek nights when only a steaming pile of pasta, meatballs, béchamel and cheese will do.

To be honest, this is so filling it doesn’t need anything to go with it other than hunks of crusty bread, a damn fine red wine and perhaps a green salad for colour and taste contrast.

Main Ingredients

  • ½ Glass of Red Wine
  • 500 grams of Penne
  • 200 grams of Parmesan Cheese – Freshly Grated, don’t even bother with the powdery stuff
  • 3 Italian Mozzarella Cheeses
  • A handful of roughly torn Basil Leaves
  • Small Slug of Olive Oil
  • Enough Butter to generously grease your baking tin

The Tomato Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
  • 4 Large Crushed Garlic Cloves
  • 2×400 gram tins of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 30 grams Butter
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper

The Béchamel

  • 1 Carrot
  • ½ Onion
  • 1 Celery Stick
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 500 Ml of Whole Milk
  • 50 Grams of Butter
  • 50 Grams of Plain Flour
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper

The Meatballs

  • 500 grams of Minced Beef
  • 500 grams of Minced Pork or Coarse Sausage Meet
  • 1 Beaten Egg
  • 1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
  • 1 Small to Medium Onion Finely Chopped
  • 2 Large Garlic Cloves Finely Chopped
  • 50 grams of Parmesan Cheese
  • Lemon Juice, a dash thereof
  • Fresh Oregano, Basil and Sage
  • Olive Oil for frying
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Black Pepper

Where to start! Well with this pile of ingredients I tend to start by making my béchamel by grating the carrot, onion and celery – If you do own a food processor use it – grating an onion is a job for masochists only, but if you don’t you’ll just have to suffer for your art. Once everything’s grated put it in a small pan with the bay leaves and milk, bring the mixture to the point of boiling and then take it off the heat and leave it for an hour to infuse – during this hour you can get on with making the tomato sauce which I’ll explain later – once your hour is up strain the mixture through a sieve putting the now beautifully herbal milk in a clean pan; reheat this mixture but don’t allow it to boil… While you’re reheating melt your butter in a different pan adding the flour to make a Roux – cooking this gently for a few minutes before whisking in the milk a third at a time until your sauce becomes smooth, simmer the mixture until it has the consistency of double cream, once it’s at this consistency season with salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Jumping back in time briefly, in the hour that your milk is infusing you’ll need to make your Tomato Sauce – I do this by heating some olive oil in my heaviest pot – if you don’t have a vat like pot you could use a large casserole. Chuck in your crushed garlic and let it sizzle in the hot oil – keep an eye on it because you don’t want it to colour (as it’ll turn bitter) after just a minute throw in both tins of tomatoes (this will both sizzle and spit – an apron is a good idea): Bring this mixture to the boil, breaking up the plum tomatoes with a spoon – simmer this mixture hard to reduce in to a thick and pulpy sauce, do make sure you stir it regularly as it will stick to the bottom of almost any pan. When it’s reduced to your preferred thickness add your seasonings to taste and stir in the butter, don’t be tempted to season before the sauce has reduced otherwise it will become over seasoned and you’ll be forced to start again.

Both the béchamel and the tomato sauce can now be left covered to cool while you make the meatballs – to do first soften the onions slightly in a frying pan, before throwing them in with all of the other ingredients into a large mixing bowl, roll the mixture into small meatballs, we’re looking for no more than two centimetres across, the idea here is they’re bite size – place them on a non-stick tray and fry them in batches over a low heat until they’re browned: don’t be tempted to whack up the heat as they’ll more than likely fall apart – as they cook transfer them into the tomato sauce and when they’re all cooked deglaze the pan with the half glass of red wine adding this to the tomato sauce when you’re done .

We’re almost done – just three steps to go: boiling the pasta, constructing the dish and baking. First the pasta – cook the pasta in a large pan of well salted boiling water and when it’s cooked al dente drain off the water well before adding the cooked pasta to the béchamel making sure it’s all well mixed. We’re now ready to assemble!

First get your dish – you’ll need a big one, grease it with some butter and spread around about a third of you pasta/béchamel mix across the bottom, sprinkle this with a quarter of your grated Parmesan and then add about a third of your tomato sauce/meatball, on top of this goes a whole cheese’s worth of your Mozzarella before finally scattering a good handful of freshly torn basil, a drizzle of olive oil and seasoning with ground black pepper. Repeat this procedure until you’ve got three layers before finally adding the last layer of Mozzarella which should be dotted with a little butter, the last quarter of your Parmesan.

And you’re done – you can now either chill it in the fridge, where it’ll keep happily for up to 3 days, freeze it for those days when only a steaming pile of unctuous pasta will do, or you can shove it in the oven for immediate consumption… To cook place it covered with tinfoil in a 180° oven for 30 minutes, before removing the cover and leaving it for another 20 minutes until it’s crusty and golden. If you’re cooking it from the fridge it’ll need 40 minutes covered instead of 30, and if you’re going to freeze it you’ll need to make sure it’s totally defrosted before showing it to the oven.