Monday, 22 November 2010

Lasagne...Corsican style

Autumn is over in my mind the moment the November bonfires die down and the sulphurous smells of fireworks have disappeared. Bird pecked, brown and softening windfall apples, home to earwigs and maggots, sit scattered on the lawn, waiting to be raked. Hard work outside means slow cooked comfort food inside as my head fills with ideas calorific and ‘carborific’. But slowly, slowly cooked. Slow enough to give me time to attend to the apples. Slow enough to saw some branches (not a callous on these hands strangely). Slow enough to bathe, to change, to pour myself a drink. Slow! (I think you get it!)

Syrupy stews with crushed potatoes, creamy casseroles with rice, and rich sauces to go with pasta are a winter must. It really is that time of year for a genuinely hearty supper to welcome winter in.

This weekend I am turning my mind to lasagne. Tomato sweetened ragù and a blanket of béchamel topped with a light flurry of parmesan. This, however, is a rich, potentially waistline busting version of a lasagne, Corsican in origin. Corsican? Well, yes. Although French, the influence and dialect is distinctly Italian (or should I say Genoese Republic). My recipe is my own version of a dish called ‘Dolari’ that I had fifteen years ago (when I was a child. Cough!) So called because of the coin shaped pasta-sausage layer. This version has more Tuscan influences thanks to the Tuscan sausages from Camisa in Soho.

1 carrot
2 celery sticks
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic chopped
1lb pork mince (preferably mutton)
1lb beef mince
½ bottle Italian white wine
3 tbsp tomato puree
2 tins chopped tomato
Sprig of rosemary
Small knob of butter

Sheet of pasta (ready bought)
1lb Tuscan sausages (or any Italian course ground sausage meat)
2-3 Mozzarella or one long one.

Béchamel sauce:

2tbsp plain flour
1¼ pint milk
1½ ounces butter

Parmesan for topping


Preheat the oven to 160oC.

First the meat sauce (I have used a combination of recipe ideas including Katie Caldesi, Marcella Hazan and, of course, Elizabeth David). Peel and finely chop the carrot, onion and celery (or whizz them in a blender). Heat about 8 tablespoons of oil in a pan and slowly fry for about 10 minutes until the mix turns glassy and soft. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times. Now add the meat and cook until the rawness has gone.

Add the wine and sprig of rosemary, turn up the heat to high and let it bubble until it reduces down to below the level of the meat. Lower the heat; add the tomatoes and tomato purée and season. Once the sauce starts simmering gently put a lid on and leave for about 3 hours to cook, stirring occasionally. Add more salt at the end as well as the knob of butter. Remove the herbs once cooked. You can make the sauce the day before and let the flavours meld even more.

Now, butter a deep sided dish.

Next, the coins. (I used bought fresh pasta sheets but still dipped them in boiling water for a few seconds to prevent splitting). Skin the sausages and spread out the meat evenly over the sheet(s) of pasta until it reaches the edge. Carefully roll the sheet tightly, like a Swiss Roll and slice into coin shapes (about a centimetre wide).

Slice the mozzarella and set to one side.

Finally, the béchamel sauce (I used Elizabeth David’s recipe in Italian Food, but feel free to another recipe). Place a bay leaf in the milk and heat up (do not boil though) in a separate pan. Melt the butter in another pan, then add the flour. Stirring constantly add the milk slowly ensuring the mixture remains smooth and slowly thickens. (I thought of using eggs in the béchamel, as I would for a Moussaka, to make it fluffier and add another layer of flavour and richness but did not want to risk it this time around).

To assemble, place the coins flat, in the buttered dish. Put the mozzarella slices on top roughly. Pour the ragù over the coins, then the béchamel sauce on top of that. Finally, scatter some finely grated parmesan on the top and place in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Lamb’s Lettuce or rocket salad on the side (or more traditionally, afterwards) cleans the palate well. I drank Panizzi’s 2006 Colle di Sinese to wash this down ( or

So how was my memory? Well, it was lighter than I thought it might be. Breaking down through the layers, the béchamel was lightly cheesy and thick enough to coat the tongue but not heavy, and gave a creaminess to the ragù. The sharper wine and tomato flavours of the sauce mellowed with the long cooking period, helped also by adding that small amount of butter.

What made it different was, of course, the sausage meat. Subtle to the palate and made more so thanks to the tempering melted mozzarella, it complimented the pork and beef mince well, the higher noted, sharper seasoned meat giving extra layers to the slightly more muted flavours of the pork and earthier beef. (I could only get the pork with lower fat content and wondered about using a small amount of lard in the oil. I don’t believe in size zero meats though my cardiologist would disagree, naturally). The small amount of pasta was enough although the coins could be made bigger for those who have toiled more vigorously in the garden. Overall, only a small portion was needed. The rest I froze for another time, and although I say so myself, I can’t wait.

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