Pasticcio is similar to lasagna with a bechamel sauce in place of most of the cheese. (Don't worry, there is also cheese). This particular version uses spinach pasta and a bolognese. I saw Lidia Bastianich make it on her PBS show many years ago and instantly knew I wanted to try it. I think what held me back for so long was a) it's complicated, to the point where while making this I declared "I'm only making this once a year, so don't even ask for it!" and b) it's SO decadent! It seems almost wrong. But it's not!! It's SO right! I'm still only making it once a year though.
To make this dish you need to accept the undertaking of three large projects: 1) make spinach pasta, 2) make bolognese and 3) make béchamel.
4 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained with all the liquid squeezed out of it
1 Tbs olive oil
3 1/2 to 4 cups of all purpose flour
Place spinach in a food processor and whir it up until it's a finely chopped paste. Side note, you should have 4 oz. of spinach AFTER you've thawed and drained it, so it will likely be more than 4 oz while still frozen. Combine the spinach with the eggs and oil in a bowl.
Place 3 cups of flour in a mound on either a cutting board or just on your countertop. Create a well in the middle of the flour and pour your spinach egg mixture into the well. Using a fork, slowly mix in flour from the inside of the well, using your hand to continue to fortify the outside of the well. When most of the flour is incorporated and you are able to pull everything together into a mass, move any excess flour to the side (except enough to ensure the dough doesn't stick to your surface) and begin to knead the dough. Knead for 8-10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and springs back almost immediately when you poke it. 8-10 minutes is roughly how long it should take, but don't be afraid to continue kneading for longer if your dough isn't yet as described above. Wrap the dough loosely in plastic wrap and allow it to sit for at least a half an hour.
I very luckily had the use of Elaine's Kitchen Aid mixer and pasta roller attachments. Using the mixer, I rolled the pasta out into long strips until it was very thin - I went up to the #6 setting on the roller.
Cook pasta strips (in batches) in salted, boiling water. Rinse with cool water if not using right away so that they don't stick together and set aside.
Bolognese (half recipe, which was exactly enough for this dish)
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1 cup red wine
6 oz. pancetta*
5 garlic cloves*
2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, minced in the food processor
1 celery stalk, minced in the food processor
1 carrot, minced in the food processor
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs tomato paste
1-2 cups milk, heated**
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1-2 cups chicken broth, heated (you can also use beef or veggie stock)**
*These are the amounts called for in the full recipe. Sometimes dividing in half is math that is beyond my skill set.
**The full recipe calls for 2 cups of each of these liquids - but I wasn't getting the textural results called for by only using half. So, start with half, but know that you may need to add more.
In a bowl, combine the ground pork and beef with the red wine. Blend the wine in with your fingers to make sure all the meat is getting some vino.
In a food processor, blend together the pancetta and the garlic cloves until you have a paste. In Italian, this is called a pestata! (This blog is educational too!)
In a large saucepan or pot, heat the olive oil and add in the pestata. Over medium high heat, break up the paste. Once sizzling and you are smelling its intensely wonderful smell, add in your onions. Sweat them for a few minutes and then add the carrots and celery (which I blended together in the food processor to make it easier). Cook until the veggies are soft, about 5 minutes.
Turn up the heat to high, push veggies to the side and add the meat mixture. Don't touch it for a few minutes, just so it can get a nice golden color on the bottom. Then mix it in with the veggies and cook on high heat, stirring frequently, for about 35-40 minutes until the liquid from the meats and veggies has evaporated.
Begin to heat the milk and broth in separate pans.
Push your meat and veggies to the side of the pan again, and add the tomato paste, once again letting it cook for a few minutes.
Add the hot milk (1 cup) and stir into the meat mixture, getting up an of the fond on the bottom of the pan. Add nutmeg and bay leaf and lower heat to medium low. Bring the sauce to a slow simmer. Cover and let cook for about 3 hours, checking and stirring about every 20 minutes. Use the hot broth to keep the liquid level consistent throughout cooking.
After about 3 hours, your sauce should be a thick pudding-like consistency. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and discard the bay leaf. You can also spoon off any excess fat at this point, if you are using it right away. If you make it in advance, definitely leave it until the sauce cools, as it will be a lot easier to remove at that point.
This is probably the easiest part of this whole process, so Congratulations!
4 Tbs butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk
3/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and whisk to remove any lumps. Add milk and whisk to combine. Cook, whisking constantly for about 10 minutes until the sauce starts to bubble and thicken, about the thickness of a creamy soup. Add salt to taste.
One additional ingredient for assembly: 1 1/2 cups grated fontina!
ARE YOU READY?
Butter a 9 x 13 pan and spread about 1/3 of a cup of bolognese in the bottom. Lay strips of pasta to cover the bottom of the pan, allowing a few inches of pasta to overlap the short sides of the pan. I had 3 strips on the bottom of my pan. Spread a cup of bolognese and a cup of béchamel over the pasta. Place another layer of pasta strips on top of the sauces, this time leaving the over hang over the long sides of the pan. Spread another layer of sauces, this time adding your grated fontina and continue to layer pasta and sauce and cheese until you reach the top. I had 4 total layers. Finish with a layer of sauces and the fold the overlapping pasta from the first layer over the top, making sure that everything is covered by a layer of pasta. Finish with a layer of béchamel and the remainder of your cheese. I also dusted the top with a coating of parmesan.
Tent the pasticcio with foil and place in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for another 20 minutes so that the top gets golden and crisp.
Once out of the oven, let it sit for (at least) 20 minutes before serving. Seriously, just leave it alone. It will run all over the place if you don't and you'll be sorry.
BUT, when you dig into this, you won't be sorry - and you'll most likely be very proud of yourself!