Baked pastas play an important part in our family eating, and vincisgrassi, a speciality of the Marche region, known for its cured hams, butter and wild mushrooms, is one of the simplest, which kids seem to love. I would make up batches of it to keep in the freezer for Margherita, but with peas instead of mushrooms. The most extravagant recipes, such as the legendary vincisgrassimy friend Franco Taruschio used to make at the Walnut Tree Inn near Abergavenny, are a big celebration of only fresh porcini (ceps) in season, but a mixture of wild mushrooms is fine. You can include some fresh porcini if you like when the mushrooms appear in the autumn (sometimes you can also find frozen porcini,which are excellent).
The pasta is supposed to have been created in 1799 for a dinner to honour Prince Windischgratz, who was commander of the Austrian forces in Ancona in the Marche region during the Napoleonic wars. However, as always in Italian culinary history, there is a dispute over the story, since an earlier, similar dish called princisgras was mentioned in a book called Il CuocoMaceratese (‘The Cook of Macerata’ – Macerata being a province of the Marche region), published in 1871 by Antonio Nebbia,which looked at the fashionable foods of the day.
good chicken stock 400ml
dried porcini mushrooms 30g
garlic 2 cloves, lightly crushed
sliced Parma ham 150g, chopped
mixed wild mushrooms 400g, sliced
white wine 1 glass (70ml)
Parmesan around 200g, grated
dried lasagne 20 sheets
For the béchamel:
milk 2 litres
sea salt and freshly ground
plain flour 140g
1 In a large pan, bring the chicken stock to the boil, add the dried mushrooms, then take off the heat straight away and leave to infuse for 1 hour. 2 For the béchamel, bring the milk to the boil in a pan, and season. 3 In a separate pan, melt the butter, whisk in the flour and cook gently for 3 minutes over a low heat. 4 Gradually whisk in the milk and continue to whisk over a low heat for 2 minutes, until you have a thick sauce. 5 Take off the heat and keep warm.
6 Lift the dried mushrooms from the stock (but retain this) and chop them finely. 7 Melt the butter in a large pan, add the garlic, Parma ham and chopped dried mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic. 8 Put in the sliced mixed mushrooms and cook for another 3 minutes to release their liquid, then add the white wine, bubble up to evaporate the alcohol, and finally pour in the reserved chicken stock. 9 Bring to the boil, then stir in threequarters of the béchamel sauce and take off the heat. Keep the rest of the béchamel to one side. 10 Preheat the oven to 180ÆC/gas 4.
11 In a large ovenproof dish, ladle some of the béchamel, mushroom and ham mixture over the base and cover with four of the pasta sheets, overlapping them a little if necessary so that there are no gaps. 12Ladle in another layer of the béchamel mixture, followed by about 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan. 13Repeat the whole process of layering twice more, but use the reserved, plain béchamel for the final layer, and top with plenty of Parmesan. 14 Put into the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, until golden and crispy on top.