Pasta 'ncasciàta (pasta o' fùrnu)

Pasta 'ncasciàta (pasta o' fùrnu)


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Called pasta o' fùrnu in the northern part of the region, or pasta 'ncasciàta in the southernmost tip of the boot, this dish is a feast for the eyes and palate – a combination of ingredients so rich and complex it requires not just good planning, but a good appetite, too. It consists of short pasta (often rigatoni) tossed with meat ragù, then encased (ncasciàta) between slices of fried aubergines alongside meatballs, provola, soppressata and, sometimes, even hard-boiled eggs. This is then baked until it all comes together into a decadent delight. A dish for Sunday family lunches.

Start with the ragù. In a large saucepan, fry the onion in oil over a gentle heat until softened. Increase the heat and add the pork and beef and brown evenly, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan. Once browned, add the passata, cover, and cook over the gentlest, lowest heat for about 2 hours. Check often and stir if needed
White the ragù is bubbling away, prepare the meatballs. Soak the bread in a little water to soften it. Leave it there for 10 minutes, then drain, squeeze out any excess liquid and crumble in a large bowl. Add pork and beef, pecorino, parsley, eggs, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Stir to combine until everything is evenly mixed. Shape the meatballs using your hands – try and make them all the same size, about that of a walnut
Fill three-quarters of a frying pan with olive oil and set over a medium heat. When the oil is hot (170–180°C if you have a cooking thermometer), add the meatballs (you might want to work in batches). Fry until cooked through, for 4–5 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels
Use the same oil (check that the temperature is still around 180°C) to cook the aubergine slices. Fry in batches until tender and golden in colour, then drain and set aside
When the ragù is almost ready, cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then add the rigatoni and cook until just al dente. Drain and toss with a few spoonfuls of the ragù (reserve most of it for later)
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6
In a square or rectangular baking dish, arrange the aubergine slices so as to cover the bottom and edges of the dish. Add a few spoonfuls of the ragù, then a layer of pasta. Top the pasta with some diced provola, slices of soppressata and a few egg slices (if using). Cover with some more ragù, then dust with grated pecorino. Repeat in layers until you get to the top of the dish, finishing with ragù and pecorino
Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the dish looks bubbly on the top and edges. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving
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