Friday, 6 April 2012


"What?" - I hear you asking - "is Vincisgrassi"?  It is how Italians in the Marche region made Lasagne before tomatoes became popular, and is an old traditional recipe, popularised in the UK about 20 years ago when Franco Taruschio was cooking at the Walnut Tree restaurant near Abergavenny.  His recipe consisted of home-made egg lasagne, layered with a rich, cream-based besciamella sauce of mushrooms (dried and fresh), minced Parma ham, garlic, parsley, and truffles, topped with Parmesan and baked until golden.  People travelled from all over the country to eat it, apparently.  My version is less rich, made with skimmed milk and no cream, and no truffles - too rich for me!  Also, I used dried pasta which is just fine, and added chopped chard to turn it into a complete meal.  As with any lasagne, it is a construction job of several elements, so set plenty of time aside, but when done, it can happily sit in the fridge for up to a day before baking.  A great dish for entertaining. 
Stage 1: Mince 50g of Parma ham in a food processor or mini chopper.  Slice 500g of good field mushrooms.  Chop a couple of cloves of garlic and a shallot.  Melt 50g of butter in a pan, add all these ingredients, and cook for 5 minutes or so until mushrooms are tender and juicy.  Stir in a heaped tablespoon of flour, then gradually add a pint of milk (full-fat if you like), bring to the boil, then stir in 50g of grated Parmesan.  Season well and set aside.
Stage 2: Bring a pan of water to the boil and plunge in 9 sheets of dried lasagne.  Boil for 3 minutes, then drain, rinse under cool water and lay out on a tea towel.  I do this even if the pack says it can be cooked from dry.  Finely chop the stems of a bunch of swiss chard and roughly chop the leaves.  Saute in a glug of olive oil until wilted and all liquid has been driven off, then season well with lots of grated nutmeg, and salt and pepper.
Stage 3: Assemble in an appropriately-sized roasting or gratin dish.  I line mine with baking parchment to save scrubbing for weeks.  Put 1/4 of the mushroom bechamel sauce in the bottom.  Cover with 3 sheets of lasagne, half the chard and another 1/4 of the sauce.  Repeat this layer, ending with the remaining pasta.  Cover with the last 1/4 of the sauce, sprinkle with a further 25g or so of Parmesan, then bake for 40 minutes until bubbling brown.  Leave to sit for 5 minutes, cut into four and eat.  Warning: this is very delicious, and my husband is already asking when I'll be making it again

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