Sunday, July 03, 2005

Vincisgrassi

W loves lasagne. He came home yesterday, only to depart again today. So I really wanted to make something special for dinner. I think of Vincisgrassi, which is a baked pasta layered with chicken liver sauce and besciamella, as being a rich lasagne. According to Anna del Conte in Gastronomy of Italy, the original recipe for the sauce uses prosciutto, chicken livers, porcini, calf's brains and sweetbreads, slowly simmered then given a final enrichment of cream and spicing with nutmeg. She also mentions that these days, the brains and sweetbreads are often replaced by ground veal. The only other recipe I could find in my books for Vincisgrassi is from Ann and Franco Taruschio's Leaves from The Walnut Tree (the recipe for which has been replicated in their more recent title on pasta), a charming book illustrated with exquisite woodblock prints by Sarah van Niekerk. Franco Taruschio comes from the Marche region, whence this splendid dish originates. Italian food historians can't seem to agree on the story behind its odd name. One romantic story goes that it was created and named (not too accurately!) by a chef in Macerata in honour of Prince Alfred zu Windischgratz, the Austrian commander of the occupation forces based in neighbouring Ancona in 1799 during the Napoleonic wars. It is, however, just as likely (if not more) to be based upon a similar dish called Princisgras, mentioned in Antonio Nebbia's gastronomic manual of 1784. If you're interested, Waverly Root gives a pretty entertaining account of the dish in The Food of Italy. Anyways, whatever the provenance, Vincisgrassi is delicious.

My first encounter with Vincisgrassi was at The Walnut Tree Inn near Abergavenny in Wales about a decade ago. As far as I can recall, there was meat in their sauce, which was confirmed by looking at the Taruschios' recipe (theirs really isn't unlike a ragu alla Bolognese in construction). In Anna del Conte's recipe (which is indubitably the authentic article), she only uses offal. After much dithering, I finally decided to make my sauce using a mixture of chicken livers, ground beef (for meatiness), ground pork (for sweetness), and ground veal (for delicacy). So apart from substituting Anna del Conte's brains and sweetbreads with an equal weight of mixed ground meats, I've kept to her recipe. I'm also really glad I followed her instructions for the unusual pasta dough instead of sticking with my regular dough recipe. Made from farina 00 flour, semolina flour, eggs, butter and vin santo, the resulting lasagne sheets seemed more greedily absorbent (before baking, the assembled layers of pasta, sauce and besciamella are left to stand for at least four hours for the flavours and elements to intermarry), yet had a fabulous resilience that withstood baking without dissolving into a mush. As a vegetable course, I made a platter of 3 bite-sized aubergine-based dishes - a wonderfully crisp aubergine patty based on a Marcella Hazan recipe and served with a dab of sundried tomato compote; an aubergine "caviar" flavoured with oil-cured black olives, parsley and shallots and served with a parmesan crisp; and a griddled aubergine slice stuffed with roasted red peppers and mozzarella before being baked till oozily molten then topped with pesto.

7 Comments:

Blogger Sam said...

that looks amazing. Thank you for visiting my blog because now I have discovered yours.

1:07 am, July 05, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi sam, thanks! and i must be the last person left on the blogosphere who hadn't come across your wonderful blog earlier...

1:17 am, July 05, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

I like the look of those aubergine bites - very cute and beautifully presented..

8:42 pm, July 11, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi pille, thanks :)

1:13 am, July 15, 2005  
Blogger Steffles said...

Amazing blog, you've humbled me. Such great pains you take with your food, and such fantastic plating (one thing i'm just too lazy to do). Keep blogging as i'll be coming back for more!

11:01 pm, July 25, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi steph, thanks for dropping by, and your kind words. my family thinks i'm obsessive compulsive ;) i like to think its attention to detail...cheers,j

11:52 pm, July 25, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mmm lovely - I remember mum making vincisgrassi when we all lived at home it would be made on a special day. Mum comes from the Marche Region (Porto Civitanova)so we have been fed well with tradional italian food, I remember her making the doh and rolling it out thinly as we didn't have the pasta machines in those days. I'm sure the chicken giblets etc were not used in Mum's receipe so it was probably her own version of Lasagne. so of course we are all able to make our own version and pass this down to our children too

11:47 pm, November 05, 2007  

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