Saturday, 10 November 2012

Vincisgrassi


"If you have never attempted to cook anything from this blog before, I urge you, nay I implore you, to try this recipe on for size"

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will be well used to the witty intros I provide for most of my recipes: an amusing anecdote perhaps, or some droll comment about the origins of the dish. However, not this time: other than the bare minimum there'll be no pissing about, fannying around or any other guff.

This dish is one of the finest I have cooked for a very long time and so I don't want to distract from it's sheer quality. If you have never attempted to cook anything from this blog before, I urge you, nay I implore you, to try this recipe on for size.

Vincisgrassi is a dish from Le Marche on the east coast of Italy, which, in over simplistic terms, is a lasagne where you  replace the beef ragu with mushrooms and air dried ham. There are considerably more complex versions of this dish around, some of which seem to employ a variety of unpalatable and strange ingredients - coxcombs and chicken foetuses  for example. (By the way I'm not joking - check out the recipe on about.com). Perhaps understandably, I didn't fancy any of these so stuck to a more conventional ham and mushroom version.

Vincisgrassi is best know to us Brits via a very talented Italian chef called Franco Taruschio, who used to run the Walnut Tree Inn in Abergavenny. Franco was something of a food hero and people still talk of him, and this dish in particular, in hushed and reverential terms. So rather than assume I can do better than the master himself, it is approximately his recipe which I've detailed below, along with a couple of my own very slight modifications.

Anyway, it looks like I've written slightly more than I intended, so without haste, to the recipe...

Vincisgrassi

Serves 6

500g fresh mushroooms, roughly sliced
60g dried porcini / ceps
300g air dried ham (Italian ideally), cut into finger-width strips
bunch of parsley, finely chopped
200g parmesan cheese, grated
2 1/2 pints milk
60g butter
90g flour
Approx 12 lasagne sheets
Extra butter for greasing and frying
Olive oil
Truffle salt to serve (very optional)

You'll also need a baking dish at least 20cm x 25cm and to heat the oven to 200C
  1. Start off by heating the milk in a saucepan to just below boiling point, then take it off the heat, add the dried porcini, cover with a lid and leave to infuse for half an hour. This will both reconstitute the dried porcini and flavour the milk for the bechamel.
  2. While the porcini are soaking, fry the chopped fresh mushrooms in a splash of olive oil and small knob of butter. With the quantity there, you will  need to do this in two or three batches. Make sure you cook the mushrooms quite hard so they get some colour and don't just steam in their own juices.
  3. Drain the dried mushrooms (making sure you reserve the milk) and add these to your final batch of frying mushrooms.
  4. Stick the cooked mushrooms into a bowl with the strips of air-dried ham and parsley and give the whole lot a good mix.
  5. Now turn your attention to the bechamel sauce. In a large saucepan over a medium heat, melt the butter until it is foaming and then add the flour to create a roux. You need to keep stirring the roux round the pan for two to three minutes to ensure the flour is cooked before you add the porcini scented milk. 
  6. Add a small amount of milk to start with, stirring all the time to avoid lumps forming. I usually find a wooden spoon or spatula is useful to start with before switching to a whisk when the sauce gets a touch looser.
  7. Keep stirring in the milk until you have added it all and have a smooth white sauce. With the pan on a low heat, simmer the sauce, stirring often, for five to seven minutes. By which time the sauce should have thickened to the texture of double cream. If you think it is too thin, just leave it on the heat, stirring constantly for another minute or two.
  8. When you are happy with the sauce, add to the mushrooms, ham and parsley, mix, and season with salt and pepper.
  9. To assemble the Vincisgrassi, grease your baking dish with butter, then add a layer of pasta sheets, followed by a layer of the sauce and a sprinkling of the grated parmesan. Repeat this process until you have at least three separate layers, before finishing off with a final spread of the sauce and the rest of the parmesan.
  10. Now bake in the pre-heated for 30-35 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.
If you are feeling very flush the final flourish to this magnificent dish would be a couple of shavings of white truffle, air-freighted in from Alba. If you can't stretch to that, a small sprinkling of good quality truffle salt would make a decent imitation. But it is superb without any of these additions, so don't worry if you don't have them. 

Regarding a wine recommendation, predictably I'd go for something red and Italian - ideally from Le Marche, to match the origins of the dish.

p.s. I'm sorry about the poor quality of the picture. I made this for a dinner party, so didn't have time to spend taking multiple shots from multiple angles!

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