By Franz Scheurer
You might have seen it on menus and wondered what it was or you might have read a menu description and wondered what it tastes like.
Vincisgrassi is a dish from Le Marche in Italy and is a dish traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven. The cities of Ancona and Macerata dispute its origin and Ancona attributes the dish’s name to the post-Napoleonic campaigns and an Austrian General, Windish Grätz, who had a great relationship with the city.
Traditionally the dish is made with egg pasta sheets, about 10cm wide and as long as the oven dish used. The filling is made with 'le rigaglie del pollo', the chicken’s innards, e.g. giblets, hearts, livers, as well as the combs and wattles (the coloured, fleshy lobe hanging from the head of chickens). This version also includes sweetbreads, brains, minced veal, yearling or lamb and local mushrooms (which in Italy means not only porcini, but chiodini, finferli and many other species of wild mushrooms). The dish is then assembled (like a lasagna) with alternating layers of béchamel and the meat sauce. The top layer is covered with grated Parmesan and knobs of butter, and then baked.
Vincisgrassi Macaeratese however uses prosciutto or lardo, chicken giblets, chicken livers, sweetbreads, brains, bone marrow and béchamel. Unfortunately, today it is often made with pork mince, pork sausage, and chicken livers, seasoned with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Fried porcini are sometimes added.
Then there is the ‘light’ version for non-Italians (and frankly, I find the assumption that non-Italians won’t appreciate the ‘real thing’ offensive – call it something else, not Vincisgrassi), which is simply made with prosciutto and porcini. Unfortunately this is also the reason you are likely to be served in Australia and it just does not have the silkiness and depth of the real thing. Needless to say, it does not exist in that form in Italy (except for the tourists).
Caraluccio includes a version in his ‘Carluccio’s Italy’ cookbook that contains truffles and porcini and it probably comes from the Walnut Tree in Abergavenny. When an Italian from Le Marche puts Vincisgrassi on the menu in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Abergavenny, then it’s easy to believe that this is the real Vincisgrassi. Even Anna del Conte decided to publish the Walnut Tree version in her ‘The Classic Food of Northern Italy’, but correctly explains the dish in her ‘Gastronomy of Italy’. When Carluccio held a dinner with Guy Grossi in Melbourne, they also served the Walnut Tree version, which I think is not only disappointing, but also missing the point of showcasing Italian regional food in Australia.
Find the real thing and find out just how superb and unexpectedly delicate it is! (Or if you’re an accomplished cook, make it yourself, it’s worth the effort)
Ed Charles told me that he had a terrific version of Vincisgrassi at The Grand Hotel Dinging Room in Richmond, Victoria. http://www.grandrichmond.com.au/
Thank you for your help:
Stefano Manfredi – http://twitter.com/manfredistefano
Jeff Brady - http://twitter.com/ThermomixerOz
Ed Charles - http://twitter.com/Tomatom
Carmelita Caruana - http://twitter.com/CookItaly