Vincisgrassi: The Winter Cooking Project You've Been Looking For
Cooler weather and shorter days are all part and parcel of winter. Of course, they’re ideal for a long slow cooking project and have we got one for you. Similar to lasagne, Vincisgrassi is a layered baked pasta dish from the Marche region of Italy. It features a ragu enriched with chicken livers which is then anointed with a creamy bechamel, all layered between pasta you’ve made with your own two hands. This hearty feast of a dish goes back some 250 years, and was mostly a meal for celebrations. And sometimes you’ve just got to celebrate the small things in life, like getting through the week.
City Larder head honcho, Robbie Bell, shares this recipe from his Keeping it Simple e-book and he reckons this show-stopping meal is perfect for sharing with family and friends. Though there may be squabbles over who gets the crunchy corner and who gets the creamy centre, there’s more than enough deliciousness here for everyone.
This classic recipe is a project cook with several parts but one that can be easily divided up if required. The pasta dough, ragu and, at a pinch, the bechamel could even be made ahead. Of course, this means more time to watch the heart-warming Pasta Grannies YouTube channel.
It All Starts With The Pasta
Fresh pasta sheets
- 500g ‘00’ pasta flour plus a little extra for dusting the dough when rolling
- 170g egg yolk – approximately 9 egg yolks
- 3 eggs
- 2 tbs olive oil
- pinch Salt
- Whisk eggs, yolks, and olive oil in a bowl. Then, mix the salt and flour together in a second bowl. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and, using the tips of one hand, start working them all together. When it has almost come together, tip it all out onto the bench and knead with both hands.
- At first it will be a little dry and feel like it’s not coming together but keep kneading. It is ready when the dough turns a soft yellow colour and feels a little tacky but not sticky. If you need to add a little extra flour when kneading to avoid it sticking, you can. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for one hour in the fridge.
- Divide the dough into 4 chunks for easier handling. With a rolling pin, gently roll each piece until it is thin enough to fit into the pasta machine. Start with the widest setting (it often is 8) and run each section of dough through the machine. Adjust the thickness level down by 2 (the next level down would then be 6) and run each piece of dough through again. Keep reducing the thickness by 2 until it looks like a thick pasta dough. It doesn’t have to be particularly thin at this point.
- Now to book fold. Lay your pasta out horizontally on a lightly floured bench. Fold the left side into the middle then fold the right side into the middle so the edges meet. Repeat this move until the sheets are narrow enough to be inserted into the machine. It will be thick again after the folding, so using keeping the dough in the same direction roll it out until it’s thin enough to go through the machine again.
- Now spin the pasta dough 90 degrees then run it through the machine using the same system as before, working down 2 levels at a time. The idea is to work the pasta through the machine in the opposite direction that it went through before.
- Do the book fold 3 times in total. This works the gluten, strengthening the dough so when you cook it the pasta sheets maintain a good bite.
- On the final book fold, roll the pasta down to the thickness you like. You’re aiming for 2mm for lasagne sheets. Leave on a tray to one side until you’re ready to blanch it, or and refrigerate to use the next day.
Leftover egg whites can be easily frozen to make meringues at a later date. They are also indispensible when making cocktails such as a whiskey sour.
If you’re not sure what a bechamel should actually look like? Robbie has made a handy Tik Tok video to assist.
- 120g butter
- 120g plain flour
- pinch each of ground nutmeg, salt, pepper
- 1 litre milk
- Meanwhile, to make the béchamel sauce, prepare a roux by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Add the flour and cook out on low for 20 minutes; it wants to look like wet sand.
- Warm the milk and add 1/3 to the roux, whisking it in. When it has all come together, add the next third and do the same until all the milk is in the roux. Season with salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg. Bring to the boil then turn it down low and cook for 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. It should be nice and thick. If making ahead, cover with a film of plastic wrap to avoid it forming a skin.
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 50g onion, finely diced
- 50g carrots, finely diced
- 50g celery, finely diced
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced or grated
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 sprigs thyme
- 500g lean minced beef
- 150g pork mince
- 150g chicken livers
- 300ml red wine
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 can (400g) peeled chopped tomatoes
- 400ml chicken stock
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and gently fry until the vegetables are golden brown. Add the bay leaves and thyme, then the beef, pork, livers and cook until all the meat juices have evaporated. Add the wine, allowing it to reduce till almost completely gone.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for about 5 minutes on a medium heat. Now add the tomatoes and chicken stock then simmer for 1.5 hours. Don’t forget to retrieve your bay leaves before constructing the Vincisgrassi.
Let's Bring It All Together
- butter to grease the tray
- 150g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated, plus extra to finish
- Blanch each sheet of pasta by dropping it in boiling salted water for 2 minutes then into iced water before removing and placing carefully to one side, on a clean cloth.
- Grease a tray (approx 25cm x 25cm) with a little butter. Spread 1 ladle of béchamel on the base to make a thin layer and arrange the lasagne sheets to cover the bottom of the tray.
- Add a thin layer of ragù, a small drizzle of béchamel and sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano. Repeat with remaining ingredients, ideally you want a minimum of 5 layers. After the final pasta sheet is in place, finish with a thin layer of béchamel sauce and sprinkle over some Parmigiano Reggiano to help gratinate the top.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 200°C for 30 minutes and rest it for 5 minutes before serving.
- Tags: charcuterie, chef, city larder, classic recipe, italian food, pasta, vincisgrassi, winter, winter warmer
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