A classic Italian dish layered with love. This is a riff on Nonna’s infamous lasagna. I grew up on American lasagna made with cottage cheese, tomatoes, ground meat and Mueller’s lasagna noodles, the ones with the curly edges. It was good, until… I had my first taste of Nonna’s lasagna and American lasagna hit the back burner.
My fork dug in and my mouth pleasurably eschewed layers of homemade pasta with creamy bèchamel, San Marzano tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. Simple, honest, buonissima!
This is my rendition, an American girl’s take on an Italian classic. I use the same components of Nonna’s lasagna and apply them to this Paccheri al Forno. Layers of bèchamel, paccheri pasta and a homemade ragu alla Bolognese antica (made the old-style way with slow-cooked pork shoulder) You could even use rabbit, or duck to recreate this ragu. I’m willing to bet that when there was a leftover roast it was plopped into a homemade tomato sauce and ragu was born. I could be wrong, but it seems a likely string of events.
Give this a try, your family will love it.
PACCHERI AL FORNO
1 package Paccheri pasta (preferably from Gragnano)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into cubes (duck or rabbit are good too)
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28oz can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup milk
1 bay leave
Few sprigs of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups milk
1 bay leaf
freshly grated nutmeg
4 Tbsp butter
5 Tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
For the sauce: In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat, add the cubed pork shoulder and brown on all sides. Once browned, use tongs and remove pork to a bowl. Add the chopped onion and saute until translucent followed by the carrots, celery and garlic. Saute about 5 minutes. Add the pork back to the pot and add the red wine and simmer until juices cook off. Next, add the milk continue to simmer another minute or two.
Add the can of San Marzano tomatoes crushing them with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil. (Without rinsing the can which the tomatoes were in, add a bit of water about 1/4 of the can using up the leftover tomato pulp from the sides and bottom of the can, and add to the sauce) Set to simmer and cook at least 2 hours or up to 6 as long as the meat begins to fall apart and shred. Set aside.
For the bèchamel: In a small saucepan add the milk, bay leaf and grated nutmeg. Keep warm, but do not boil.
In a large sauce pan, melt the butter, add the flour and whisk until a thick paste is formed and turns sandy brown in color. Begin adding a cup of milk at a time while continuously whisking. Keep adding milk and whisking until all the milk has been added. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off heat and get ready to layer your Paccheri al Forno.
For the pasta: Heat a large pot filled with water. Bring to a boil, add a generous handful of coarse sea salt followed by the pasta, cook until al dente according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Construction: In a large casserole dish layer a few ladles of bèchamel just to cover the bottom of the pan. Next, add a layer of paccheri, then ragu, then bèchamel, keep layering until the ingredients are used up. Just be sure that the last layer is bèchamel. To finish, grate Parmesan on top and cover with tin foil. At this point you can bake covered at 350F for 30 minutes, uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until bubbling and browned. You can also refrigerate and bake at another time or freeze and bake at a later time. If you allow to refrigerate, increase baking time to 1 hour. If you freeze, be sure to completely thaw and then bake at 350F for 1 hour.
*Please note: My style of cooking is by taste and feel. I view a recipe as an outline to follow and then you make it your way (unless I am baking!) Sometimes we have to cook with what we have on hand, make substitutions or add a bit more flavour, so feel free to make this your own.