Baked Pappardelle with Pancetta & Porcini
The following, utterly delicious recipe has been inspired by two of my most loved restaurants. The first one, that venerable Venetian institution, Harry’s Bar, makes a gratin of fine ribbon pasta (tagliolini), which is baked with slivers of smoked ham in a rich béchamel sauce, then finished with a fine crust of Parmesan.
The other place is the Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, when Franco Taruschio used to run it as chef-proprietor together with his wife, Ann, for over three decades. The dish in question here was the legendary Vincisgrassi: fresh porcini (often picked locally) and Parma ham, layered between sheets of lasagne and thick smears of béchamel, also baked with Parmesan. Franco’s extra joy was to shave a generous topping of white truffle on the finished dish, just before sending to table. The smell, oh, the smell! – as it was placed before this greedy boy.
|Salt and freshly ground black pepper|
|50g||thinly sliced pancetta, cut into 2cm pieces|
|4–5 tbsp||freshly grated Parmesan|
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6.
Just warm the milk in a saucepan and then soak the porcini in it for about 10 minutes. Drain the milk through a sieve suspended over a bowl, pressing lightly on the porcini with the back of a ladle to extract all the milk. Put the mushrooms to one side. Rinse out the pan and wipe it clean, then use it to melt the butter. Tip in the flour, stir it around and cook quietly for a few minutes without colouring the roux. Pour in the porcini-flavoured milk all in one go and whisk together vigorously until smooth. Cook over a very low heat, stirring now with a wooden spoon, for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened – and it should not be too thick. Season lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Put on a lid and set aside.
Bring a large pan of boiling, salted water to a rolling boil. Plunge in the pasta, bring back to the boil and cook until it is a little underdone (taste some); it will cook more when it is baked. Drain in a colander, tip into a roomy bowl and deftly mix with the sauce, while also introducing the porcini and pieces of pancetta. Once well amalgamated, tip into a lightly buttered dish and lightly tap down. Strew about 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the surface and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until it is bubbling around the edges and the top is gorgeously crusted a light brown. Take to table in its dish and spoon out on to hot plates, the remaining cheese handed separately to sprinkle over each serving.