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Baked Bisceglie Pasta

Baked Bisceglie Pasta

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Makes 8 to 10 generous portions.

By Dennis W. Viau; modified from a recipe in Southern Italian Cooking by Jo Bettoja.

When making Baked Bisceglie Pasta, the ragu alone is worth the effort. This is one of the best flavored ragùs I’ve tasted. Baked pasta, with the exception of lasagna, was never made in my mother’s kitchen. So this recipe intrigued me, and the experiment paid off. I would proudly serve this dinner to guests. It is magnificent. It is “elaborate” (complicated), but very satisfying to make.

Ingredients:

For the Ragù:
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
1 medium celery stalk; diced
1 medium carrot; diced
1 medium onion; diced
1 garlic clove; minced or crushed through a garlic press
Freshly ground pepper to taste
½ pound (225g) ground beef
1½ ounces (45g) prosciutto (1 thick slice); diced
½ cup (120ml) dry white wine
1 28-ounce can (800g) San Marzano tomatoes
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup water
Salt to taste
For the Meatballs:
½ pound (225g) ground beef
½ pound (225g) ground pork
½ cup (65g) freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
6 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ cup fine dry bread crumbs
¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
To Assemble the Bisceglie Pasta:
1 pound (450g) rigatoni
1 cup (135g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ pound (15g) mortadella, finely chopped
¾ pound (about 2¾ cups/330g) mozzarella cheese; finely chopped
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:

Start the ragù by heating the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the celery, carrot, onion, and pepper. Sauté over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low after the first 10 minutes and continue cooking another 10 minutes. The vegetables should begin to brown. Add the ground beef, prosciutto, and garlic; sauté 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook 5 minutes longer.

Add the tomato paste and water, mixing well, and the canned tomatoes. Raise the flame to medium and heat until it just starts to bubble. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If the sauce sticks to the bottom of the pan use a heat diffuser or raise the pot above the heat by stacking two grates (hobs). Adjust for salt. (The ragù can be prepared a day in advance.)

Prepare the meatballs by mixing the ground meat, cheese, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, and pepper. Remove a morsel of the mixture with a fork and cook it, then taste for salt. Adjust as necessary. Heat the oil in a skillet to between 350 and 375°F (175 to 190°C). Place the ½ cup of bread crumbs in a plate. Roll a small amount of the meat mixture with your hands to make a meatball about 1½ inches (4cm) in diameter. Roll the meatball in the bread crumbs, then brown in the hot oil, a few at a time so as not to crowd the pan. Turn to brown evenly. Transfer to a dish lined with paper towels.

To assemble the dish, cook the rigatoni in salted boiling water according to package directions, typically 11 to 12 minutes. Drain. Spoon a few tablespoons of the sauce into the cooked pasta and toss to coat. Spoon another few tablespoons of sauce into the bottom of a large casserole dish. Arrange about one third of the pasta in the dish. Push about half the meatballs into the pasta and then coat with a layer of about half the mortadella, one third of the mozzarella, and one third the Parmesan (or Romano). Spoon a layer of sauce over the top and then grind some black pepper on top, if desired. Layer another third of the pasta in the casserole dish, add the remaining meatballs, and then the remaining mortadella and mozzarella. Coat with other layer of sauce and sprinkle with another third of the Parmesan. Cover with the remaining pasta and then cover with sauce. Arrange the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan on top. Grate some pepper on top to finish.

Cover with foil (or a lid that will fit the dish) and bake for 60 to 90 minutes until heated through. A large shallow casserole dish will heat through more quickly than a deep dish. Remove from the oven and let rest at least 20 minutes before serving. Traditionally, this dish is eaten lukewarm, not hot.