You begin with a simple soffritto of onion in butter and olive oil, into which you add about 200g (8 oz. or 1-1/2 cups) of chopped radicchio (preferably radicchio rosso di Treviso—see below), seasoning with salt and pepper and turning to let the radicchio absorb the flavor of the onion over moderate heat.
When the radicchio is well wilted (and it will turn color to a kind of burnt sienna) then adding a splash of red wine and allow it to evaporate, then add water or broth, enough to wet all the ingredients well without covering them.
Cover and allow to braise about 15 minutes or longer, until the radicchio is tender and the liquid well reduced. (Some recipes call for a simmering time as long as 45 minutes.)
While the radiccchio is braising, make about 500ml (2 cups) of a rather thin béchamel sauce. Add 250ml (1 cup) of heavy cream, a good 100g (1 cup) of grated parmesan cheese and, when done, the radicchio and its braising liquid. Mix well.
Cook your pappardelle (about 125g or 4 oz.) in abundant salted water and, when they are still a quite underdone, add them to the béchamel, cheese and radicchio mixture. The mixture should be quite soupy—remembering that the sauce will simmer and reduce and get absorbed by the pasta during the next step. Pour the mixture into a oven-proof casserole or gratin dish, top with more grated parmesan cheese, and bake in a very hot oven (450F, 230C) until it is lightly browned on top. Allow to cool off for 5 minutes or so before serving.
Makes enough for 4 persons as a primo or 2 very hungry persons as a piatto unico.
Pappardelle are widely imported and fairly easy to find commercially, even in supermarkets. But if you can’t find them near you—or if you want to—they are relatively easy to make at home. Just make egg pasta dough in the usual way, roll it out rather thinly and cut them into 2-3cm (3/4-1 in.) wide strips. Pasta machines and attachments do not usually come with cutting blades wide enough, so you’ll need to roll up the sheets of pasta and cut them with a knife, but it’s quite easy to do.
Béchamel sauce, despite its French origins, is commonly used in central and northern Italian cooking, especially for baked pasta dishes. For example, baked lasagne in Rome and points north, more often than not, contain béchamel. (Southern lasagne usually come with a ricotta, egg and cheese mixture instead.) It is called besciamella (or, sometimes, balsamella) in Italian, although you will see recipes that simply use the French term. Some Italian authorities (like Giuliano Bugialli) maintain that béchamel was invented by Italians, derived from the Florentine salsa colla and, like some many things, reputed to have been brought to France by Caterina de’ Medici.
Radicchio marries well with pork. You can add bits of pancetta or mild sausage to the soffritto at the beginning if you would like an even more substantial dish. They also go nicely with mushrooms, especially wild ones, which I would recommend you sauté separately and add to the mixture before baking.
The term pasticcio, by the way, comes from the same root as the French (and English) pastiche, meaning a mixture of different pieces or ingredients. In Italian cooking, it often refers to a baked pasta dish like this one, in which the pasta is mixed with béchamel , cheese and some sort of condimento and then gratinéed in a hot oven. But it also refers to a savory pie that can be made with vegetable or meats. Colloquially, the word can mean a ‘mess’, as in ‘Che pasticcio!’ (What a mess!) or ‘Bel pasticcio!’ (A fine mess!). And if you find yourself ‘nei pasticci’, that means you’re ‘in a fix’.
Perhaps even more common than as a pasticcio, pappardelle and radicchio are also very nice without the final gratinée. Instead of béchamel, simply add ample heavy cream to the braised radicchio and, when your pasta is cooked, add it to the skillet with the radicchio and cream, mixing well with grated parmesan cheese, and serve.