Pasticcio di Ferrara: a savoury tart of ancient origins
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
The culinary tradition of Ferrara boasts a huge collection of tasty recipes with typical and refined flavours.
It is a culinary culture that speaks of history, courts and papacies, deeply influenced by the surrounding territory, whose origins take you back to the Renaissance and those sumptuous feasts that were so frequent at the Estensi court.
The dishes of this tradition are the result of ancient methods, prepared with exceptional food, exclusively handmade. Sweet and salty, spices and local fruits meet together, which, at the first bite, turn into an explosion of intoxicating sensations that get lost in the pages of history.
Among the many dishes of tradition, the one that can explain best this culinary experience is without any doubt the so-called “PASTICCIO FERRARESE” (also known as macaroni pie).
It is a casing of sweet, golden crust pastry filled with pasta (usually a short, straight pasta like sedanini or macaroni, sometimes even cappelletti―a hat-shaped pasta with filling). The pasta is prepared with a meat sauce and white sauce, usually flavoured with some thin flakes of truffle and mushrooms.
Even though the concept of pie has a far more ancient origin (yet the Romans were used to prepare dishes like this, using different ingredients), the pie of Ferrara dates back to the 16th century, when the noble family of Este used to host sumptuous Renaissance feasts at court.
According to some, the recipe would not be an original preparation, typical of Ferrara but it would be an alchemy of different culinary traditions that met following the marriage (1473) between Eleonora d’Aragona, daughter of Ferdinand I of Naples, and Ercole I d ‘Este of Ferrara.
The recipe is even reported in the famous cookbook by Pellegrino Artusi “The Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” (“La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene”, 1891), and it was also mentioned by Tomasi di Lampedusa in the “Gattopardo”, which further proves the recipe’s widespread and fame.
Besides such historical information, the Ferrara pie is still a prestigious dish. Its ingredients are noble and manifold, and the method is quite elaborate.
It’s for this reason that the recipe has always been on the table for dinners and guests of high regard and in more recent times, on particular occasions, such as at carnival (usually prepared on Fat Thursday and for the last Sunday of Carnival).
Today, you can find it all year round in the boutiques and restaurants of local cuisine, even though it is a typically winter dish.
Two distinguishing features makes it special: one is the contrast between the sweetness of the casing and the saltiness of the filling, which splits the palate’s perception into two, the other is the typical “pie plate” in which the pie is cooked, a handmade special hand-crafted tinned copper pot that cannot miss for a perfect cooking.
INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6)
PER LA PASTA FROLLA:
- 450g flour
- 180/200g butter
- 4 egg yolks
- grated lemon peel
- 1 pinch of salt
- 100g sugar
FOR THE MEAT SAUCE
- 150g minced lean beef
- 50g minced lean veal
- 150g minced chicken breast
- ½ glass of dry white wine
- 150 gr. di rigaglie di pollo
- a few spoons of marsala wine
- 1 celery stick finely chopped
- poco olio di oliva
- 50g butter
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 1 carrot finely chopped
FOR THE WHITE SAUCE
- 1 knob of butter
- 1 tbsp of flour
- 1/2l milk
Finally: 25g dried mushrooms, 50g freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 250g macaroni (maccheroncini rigati), truffle
Prepare the crust pastry and stretch the dough into two disks (30cm diametre, 2cm thick).
For the meat sauce, heat the oil in a large pot and then add the celery, the carrot and the onion finely chopped. Cook over a medium heat for 5 mins, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add meat, salt, pepper and the mushrooms (previously soaked in warm water, strained and chopped). Add the white wine and the marsala, and bring to a simmer until reduced. Add water until covering the food and let stew for almost 2 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the white sauce with the listed ingredients, flavouring it at the end with a pinch of grated nutmeg. Cook the pasta al dente, strain it, add the meat sauce and the white sauce, along with the freshly grated Parmesan cheese and truffle flakes.
Let the pasta with the sauces cool and distribute the compound over one disk of crust pastry, shaping it with your hands until you obtain a sort of bowl. Cover it with the second disk of crust pastry, seal the edges of the two disks and cut out the exceeding pastry.
Paint the pie with the beaten egg yolk and bake for 25 minutes in preheated oven to 175°.