Thank you, Stanley Tucci, Searching for Italy

Once I got over the disappointment of not being in Italy and doing this trip that Stanely Tucci filming (what can I say, Stanley Tucci didn’t invite me! Of course, he doesn’t even know me), I got excited about the program and all the places he will be visiting and the foods that he will be eating. And of course, it is about the same things as this blog – food, culture, history.

And since I can’t be there right now, I am happy to share some highlights and point to the source so you can have more information by watching his episodes or reading the articles about them. The show really demonstrates how Italian cuisine is very regional, and can differ even from city to city.

500 year old recipes

Here’s the key point: many of Ferrara’s favourite dishes are straight from a cookbook from the court of the 16th century, published in 1549 and written by the celebrity chef at the time, Cristoforo di Messisbugo, chef of the rich and powerful Este court in Ferrara.

Ferrara is a city in the region of Emilia Romagna, with very specific dishes mentioned in the article. I have read but don’t know from personal experience, that the pasticcio can only be eaten in Ferrara. Unless, of course, you make it at home using the recipe at the end of this post.

Unique flavour combinations

A unique feature of the Estense cuisine was “agrodolce” (sweet-savory), a flavour that came about as a conservation method. With no refrigeration, people used what they had, which was vinegar, wine and salt. Examples of this are pasticcio, a meaty mac and cheese, wrapped in a cookie-sweet crust, and cappellacci di zucca — hand-rolled pasta pillows, like oversized tortellini, filled with sweet pumpkin and nutmeg, drenched in meat ragu and topped with parmesan cheese.

Che pasticcio… ferrarese!
Pasticcio Ferrarese aka Macaroni and Cheese Pie

And now, I point you to the article for more indepth information:

If you want to get an idea of the city of Ferrara and its area, I enjoyed watching Fog and Crimes, (Nebbie e Delitti) an Italian detective series that takes place in Ferrara, on MHZ tv, a subscription service but with a 7-day free trial, enough time to binge-watch the series. It is in Italian with English subtitles. I may have to watch it again and pay attention to what they eat!

Pasticcio Ferrarese Recipe (from Daniele Masiera from the Cusina e Butega restaurant in Ferrara, Italy)

Short Pastry Crust

170 grams wheat flour

100 grams powdered sugar

100 grams butter

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1 pinch of salt

Combine ingredients and mix well until you get a firm dough. To adjust the consistency, add flour if mixture is too runny, and water if it is too dry. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

Meat and Vegetable Ragout

100 grams ground beef

100 grams ground pork

100 grams chicken liver (optional)

100 grams chicken giblets

1 small carrot

1 onion

1 celery stalk

2 tablespoons Marsala wine (or white wine)

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

Chop vegetables and sauté lightly in olive oil, using a pot with a heavy bottom, until the onions are translucent. Add the ground meat and brown it. Add the chicken liver and giblets and stir well. Add the Marsala. Simmer the mixture on a low flame, ideally for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.

Béchamel Sauce

300 milliliters milk

30 grams butter

30 grams flour

50 grams parmesan cheese

Salt and grated nutmeg to taste

Melt the butter in a small pan; add the milk. Gradually add the flour while stirring. Stir in the parmesan cheese and allow to melt; add seasoning to taste. Allow the sauce to simmer until thickened.

Add 130 grams of small macaroni (Maccheroncini) to boiling, salted water; cook until al dente; drain.

Further Preparations

Roll out the short pastry on a floured surface and cut out two plate-sized circles.

One circle will be the base of the Pasticcio. Brush the entire surface with egg yolk. Mix together the ragout, the noodles, the Béchamel sauce and about 50 grams of the parmesan cheese and place the mixture on the prepared dough circle. Place the second circle on top, making sure that it completely covers the filling. Pinch together the edges of the dough circles. It’s essential to make sure that the circles are large enough to completely cover the filling and form a sealed edge, similar to that of a calzone. Brush the surface of the dough with egg yolk and poke small holes into the top. Place the pie in the oven and bake at 160 degrees Celsius until the dough is brown about seven to nineteen minutes.