Elsewhere, you might call is lasagna, but not in Le Marche, a region that sits east of Umbria on the Adriatic. There, it is Vincisgrassi, a multi-layered baked pasta dish traditionally made with a special, rich ragù that's not for the faint of heart. It's a sauce of hand-diced beef, pork, and chicken giblets (everything including the comb), or a mixture of “courtyard animals” which could include duck, goose, chicken, rabbit, and pork.
Records of this dish date back to the 1700s. The most common legend refers to the dubious story that Vincisgrassi was dish created for an Austrian general, Alfred von Windisch-Graetz (the dish being an Italianization of his surname). It's dubious because he would have only been a child in 1799, during the Siege of Ancona, which he supposedly helped fight in and win. I prefer the more reliable connection to a cookbook written in 1779 called Il Cuoco Maceratese (or “The Cook from Macerata”), written by Antonio Nebbia. The recipe, called princisgras, describes a lasagne of layers of prosciutto, Parmesan and truffle-infused béchamel.
This princisgras is really very similar to Giorgio Locatelli's Vincisgrassi in his latest cookbook, Made at Home. Instead of truffles, he packs his lasagne full of earthy, mushroom flavour via fresh and dried mushrooms, prosciutto and bechamel. It's a winner—I made it with pure porcini mushrooms, and I happened to have a fresh white truffle (it's the season), which I grated into the béchamel too, taking a page from the 18th-century cookbook. I made fresh pasta for it, as it's usually done in Le Marche (some even like to flavor the pasta with a splash of marsala or vin cotto in the dough itself), and a houseful of Tuscan family members raved over it for days.
It's rustic yet celebratory, the sort of dish you want to put a little bit of extra effort into, perhaps for a big family feast, a Sunday lunch, or holiday meal. And I can't help but think it would be excellent with another seasonal vegetable in place of the mushroom—artichokes in late winter, for example, or fresh peas in the spring (a version Locatelli makes for his family in batches to store in the freezer).
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.
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