Still this post is a celebration in many ways-of my Italian foodie experiences and also of the fact that this is my 100th post!
Today I recreated one of my favourite pasta foodie experiences in Italy, so to speak-Pasta al Forno.
The reason why I call it a pasta experience as such, is because it was a way of experiencing the role of the nonna or grandmother in the Italian family culture.
I was aware of the stereotype of the typical Italian Mamma or Nonna but it wasn't until I moved there that I understood the real importance of the Nonna in bringing and keeping the family together.
My friend's mum fascinated me in every way.
A small, petite lady in her 80's who cycled every day to the shops to get the best and freshest produce. What fascinated me the most though was that, in spite of the fact that she spent all day and most days cooking, she hardly ate herself.
For health reasons she was unable to eat pasta dishes or rich foods and instead lived on a diet of fruit, the odd bowl of tortellini and the occasional chocolate.
But, oh my, could she cook!!
She made the best tortellini I have ever tasted-all homemade.
She also made several lasagnas and quite a few portions of this baked pasta dish.
Her ragu was amazing. Being originally from the Emilia-Romagna region, she really knew how to make a ragu.
Once her freezers were full of these amazing dishes, she would then distribute them between the different members of the family who were more than pleased and grateful for it-especially the kids.
She spent the rest of her time looking after the grandchildren, running errands for her children and having the odd cup of coffee and chat with a neighbour, which would inevitably result in her getting a new recipe for a cake.
I truly admire this woman.
Whenever we went there for a Sunday visit, she always looked immaculate-full make up, her Sunday best on and a huge welcoming smile.
Her children never took her for granted and her grandchildren adored her.
She bound the family together and brought them closer through her love of cooking for them.
I feel really lucky to have met such a woman and to realise that the nonna stereotype is actually true-Thank God!
So, in her honour I decided to recreate her dish.
Can't say it was as good as hers but it was really tasty and very creamy.
I've added the links to her ragu sauce and a bechamel sauce. The rest is all down to assembling the ingredients.
Hope you give it a go.
Pasta al Forno
4-6 cups of Ragu sauce
3/4ls Bechamel sauce
100gs grated mozarella
100gs grated parmigiano
500gs of dried penne or pasta of your choice.
A few fresh basil leaves
Make the Ragu and Bechamel sauces a few hours in advance.
I didn't use any veal meat this time because I couldn't get hold of any but do try it if you can. It gives the ragu another dimension.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Cook the pasta and mix the ragu sauce in with the pasta. Let it rest for 1 to 2 minutes so that the pasta can really absorb the flavours.
Place half of the pasta in a baking dish and spread evenly.
Cover with half of the bechamel sauce and half of the cheeses.
Then repeat the same process-the remaining pasta, bechamel sauce and cheeses.
Cook in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until it's golden brown.
Serve immediately, sprinkled with some chopped fresh basil.