Pasticcio

I have my nephews (and their dad) visiting from Australia at the moment. It’s pretty ace. The nephews are 10 and 14 years old and, thus, capable of interesting conversation, humour, vast consumption of foodstuffs and general misguided but amusing opinions. Anyway we had a few good friends over last night (6) to supper with us (5, now, with them and me and the boyfriend), somehow squeezed around our small table on a variety of stools, outdoor chairs and broken dining chairs. Classy.

Needed something big and good, so went with this. It’s a bit fiddly if you do the meatball version, as I did, and less fiddly if you replace the meatballs with sausages you’ve helped escape from their skins. I at one point swore quite widely as I realised that there was a bit of work to do to make it, as I started cooking at 4pm for a 7pm supper after a day on the Duckbus. Or an hour on the Duckbus and several hours getting there and back (well, one each way).

I’m babbling. Let’s go. Don’t be intimidated by the volume of ingredients, etc. It’s actually not that bad, this recipe makes enough for 8-10 at least, we have so much left over. I also left out a lot of the cheese element cause we had a friend coming over who doesn’t like cheese but will tolerate mozzarella. Oh, and I also cheated by not making my own bechamel. It was fine. If you want to make your own go for it, but bought stuff is perfectly ok for stuff like this. I got this recipe out of a fairly recent Guardian Weekend magazine, think it’s a Hugh F-Whatisface one – go google it if you want the official version, rather than this adapted mess.

I cooked all this from start to go in an hour, into the oven, whilst the boyfriend was walking the dog in the park. More on that later.

Allora!

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Pasticcio is, if you’re Italian, not a specific dish of certain ingredients, it means baked pasta, but it generally has some kind of meaty/creamy saucy/tomato-y involvement, as well as penne. This one was meatballs.

Meatballs

600g minced beef

600g minced pork (I used 500g and suffered no ill effects)

1 beaten egg

1 onion, finely chopped

slug of olive oil

bit of lemon juice

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

bit of chopped parsley/oregano/basil, whatever you fancy

you can also stick some parmesan in (about 200g, grated) if you want

Mix it all up.

Also have on hand some extra basil leaves and about 3 balls of mozzarella. And some extra parmesan if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Form it into meatballs and fry in batches, in a frypan. So far so complicated, eh?

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As the meatballs are done, plop them into a bowl in which the passata is residing, redly. I added a tin of chopped tomatoes to this, incidentally, just to juice things up a bit.

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At about 2/3 way through the meatball-cooking process, stick your penne on, to early al dente only cause it’ll cook more in the oven.

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By the end of the meatball cooking your frypan will look all blackened and sticky. That’s good. Fear it not.

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Slosh a bit of red wine in to get up all the sticky bits, doesn’t take long, then add it and the sticky bits to the bowl of passata and meatballs.

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Should look a bit like this. Bit odd. Strangely alluring.

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Now, imagine we’ve skipped forward a bit. You’ve drained your pasta and mixed through your bechamel sauce. If you’re making it by hand then make the sauce, obviously, first. There are recipes everywhere for it. You’ll need 1 litre milk, a bay leaf, 100g butter and 100g plain flour. Melt the butter, stir in the flour, slowly add the milk you’ve warmed through with the bay leaf in it, simmer, stirring, till thickened.

OR

Buy a couple of big jars of white sauce from the supermarket and chuck them through the penne.

Layer in a BIG BLOODY PAN some saucy pasta, then some red sauce and meatballs, then a whole sliced ball of mozzarella and basil. Repeat until the pan is overflowing and you’re done. If you’re using the extra cheese do so on top of the last layer.

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It’ll look a bit like this when done. At this stage you’ll remember you’ve not seasoned anything properly and in the absence of all the extra parmesan it’ll be a bit bland, so desperately flood the stuff with cracked black pepper and sea salt.

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Make some lame attempts to decorate it.

Right now you’re supposed to bung it in the oven (HF-W doesn’t specify how hot, I went with gas mark 4/5) with some foil over the top, for 30 mins, and then remove the foil for the last 15 mins. I didn’t do this in the rush to make dessert (more on that later) so bunged it in foil-free. It actually made it nice and crispy. I don’t think it matters too much as long as you keep an eye on it.

Eat. With salad. It’s pretty bloody tasty actually, if you stick enough salt in it. And I’d recommend the extra cheese if you can.

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Then marvel at the sights seen at the dog-park, by the boyfriend. Pigs! Pigs on leads! Pigs on leads in London!

Amazing.

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