Layered Pasta Baked with Mushrooms and Chicken

Vincisgrassi

Vincisgrassi is probably the most typical of the many layered pasta dishes of the Marche. It follows the tradition of richly stuffed and filling food, and is full of flavour and very rich in texture. The story goes that it was first prepared by the cook of the Austrian General Windisch-Graetz, who held a very powerful position in this area during the Napoleonic Wars. The Italian title of the recipe is a local version of his name.

To allow the flavours to develop, it is best made the day before you eat it. If you don’t want to make the pasta yourself, you can use bought, fresh pasta squares suitable for making lasagne-type dishes. This dish is a lot of hard work, but well worth the effort if you can manage the time. My mother used always to make it for special family occasions like birthdays.

Ingredients

For the pasta

  • 11 oz (300 g) plain white flour
  • 5 oz (150 g) semolina
  • 1 oz (25 g) unsalted butter
  • 2–3 tablespoons Marsala wine
  • 3 large eggs
  • or 1 lb (450 g) ready-made fresh lasagne

For the rest of the dish

  • 2 oz (50 g) dried porcini mushrooms or 4 oz (100 g) fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3 oz (75 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 fresh or canned black truffle, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons very rich chicken stock
  • 3 plump chicken breasts, weighing in total about 2 lb (1 kg), skinned, boned and sliced into finger-sized strips
  • 11 oz (300 g) chicken livers, trimmed, washed and chopped
  • 4 tablespoons Madeira wine
  • 5 tablespoons boiling water
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 quantity thick Besciamella
  • 3 oz (75 g) Parmesan cheese, grated

To finish

  • ½ quantity Besciamella, made with 14 fl oz (400 ml) milk to give a runny sauce

Method

Make the pasta as usual, using the flour, semolina, unsalted butter, Marsala and eggs. Proceed as you would for normal egg and flour pasta. Roll it out as thinly as possible, and cut it into oblong strips about 4 X 6 inches (10 X 15 cm). Alternatively you can use bought fresh pasta. Cook in plenty of boiling salted water, 4 or 5 pieces at a time, for about 3 minutes each. Remove them from the water with a fish slice, then lay them all out on a wet tablecloth without overlapping, until you need them.

If using dried porcini mushrooms, soak them in tepid water for 15 minutes. Drain and chop coarsely.

Melt about 2 oz (50 g) of the butter in a large saucepan, then add the onion. Fry very gently for about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and the truffle, if using. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring. Then add the stock, stir and simmer very gently for a further 10 minutes.

Add the strips of chicken breast and cook for about 3 minutes on each side. Add the chicken livers, and fry them quickly until they are no longer dark red. Add the Madeira, bring the heat up to evaporate the alcohol for 1 minute, then add the boiling water, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes over a very low heat. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the thick Besciamella.

Butter an ovenproof dish thoroughly, cover the bottom with a layer of pasta, and sprinkle a little Parmesan on top. Then pour some of the chicken filling over the pasta, spread it out evenly and sprinkle with more Parmesan. Cover with another layer of pasta and continue in this way until you end up with a final top layer of pasta. Dot the top with all the remaining butter. Leave the dish to rest for 6 hours, preferably overnight.

The next day, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7, 425°F (220°C). Cover the rested dish with the runny Besciamella and put it into the oven to bake for 30 minutes. Leave for 5 minutes before serving, as it will be easier to slice if it is not bubbling hot.

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