This recipe is adapted from the Baked Veal and Ham Pasta in
“How to Eat: Pleasures and Principles of Good Food (Cookery)” (Nigella Lawson), in itself a really delicious, tomato-free dish.
Italians, particularly Tuscans, are famous for talking about their food – conversation at the dinner table with my husband’s family always involves food – what we’re eating at the moment, what we ate at other memorable meals, what we’re going to eat tonight and what we’d really like to eat in the future when it’s back in season.
This cultural obsession with food does make it a little daunting for an outsider to dare to try to replicate at home. Italians are not shy about giving criticism or about grilling you as to the exact method you used, even if they happen to be your husband, and sometimes you feel a bit more diplomatic silent chewing might be in order. So I have generally shied away from the classics (particularly pasta) to avoid, let’s say, helpful comparisons. But with a husband seemingly obsessed by pasta al forno, sometimes I do have to try, and sometimes, as last night, I succeeded.
For the ragù: (makes double the quantity you need for the baked pasta, as generally the veal comes in 400g packets from the supermarket. Freeze the rest for next time.)
400g minced veal at room temperature
2 sticks celery
2 tins tomatoes
Heat about 2 tablespoons of fat (olive oil, butter or a combination) in a pan.
Process the carrots, celery and onion until finely chopped.
Add the vegetables to the fat and soften for 7-8 minutes.
Add the veal and turn in the pan for a few minutes until browned.
Throw in a glass of marsala and let it evaporate.
Then add the two tins tomatoes, a small grating of nutmeg and a small pinch of cinammon, salt and pepper.
Let it start to bubble, then turn down to the lowest burbling simmer and cook for at least 45 mins.
Approximately 1hr 15 mins before you want to eat, start the next stage.
Find an ovenproof dish, about 25x20cm
Heat the oven to 170°C.
Put water on for the pasta. When it comes to the boil, cook 250g large tubular pasta (e.g. rigatoni, tortiglioni) for just short of the minutes on the packet. For instance, De Cecco tortiglioni take 13 minutes, so I cook them for 9. You want the obvious white centre line to have disappeared, but for them to still be much too al dente. Drain and put back in the pan, stir a bit of olive oil into them just to coat them slightly so they don’t stick together.
Meanwhile start the beschamel:
750ml full fat milk
Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour to it. Cook this roux, stirring with a whisk, for 3 minutes or so.
Take the pan off the heat and, whisking all the time, slowly add the milk to it, bit by bit.
When it’s all incorporated, put the pan back on a medium high heat, and cook, stirring continuously for 20 minutes until the sauce is thickened and glossy. Season well.
Then add half the ragù to the cooked pasta and stir well, so that each pasta shape gets a coating of the mixture. Then put a layer of half this pasta in the ovenproof dish, top with roughly a third of the beschamel, then layer on the rest of the pasta, then the rest of the beschamel. Finally sprinkle a good layer of grated parmesan on the top. Bung in the oven for 30 minutes. Genuine Italian Approved.