Pappardelle, those extra-wide egg noodles typical of Tuscany, are perhaps my favorite pasta. There’s something about wide noodles—I love Chinese ho fun noodles, too—that are especially enticing. Perhaps the most well-known pappardelle dishes are ‘sulla lepre‘ (with braised hare) and al cinghiale (wild boar)—but pappardelle are quite versatile and, I find, go especially well with radicchio rosso. And the slightly bitter taste of radicchio marries very well with creamy sauces, the sweetness of which tend to balance out flavors. Put this all together and you have this elegant but simple dish.
Makes enough for 4 persons as a primo or 2 very hungry persons as a piatto unico.
- 125g (4 oz) pappardelle
For the radicchio:
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 200g (8 oz or 1-1/2 cups) radicchio, preferably radicchio rosso di Treviso, chopped (see Notes)
- Red wine
- Salt and pepper
For the sauce:
- 500ml (2 cups) of béchamel sauce, rather thin
- 250ml (1 cup) heavy cream
- 100g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
You begin with a simple soffritto of onion in butter and olive oil, into which you add the chopped radicchio (preferably radicchio rosso di Treviso—see Notes 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 the béchamel sauce. Add the heavy cream and grated parmesan cheese and, when done, the radicchio and its braising liquid. Mix well.
Cook your pappardelle 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 (230C/450F) for about 20 minutes, or until it is lightly browned on top. Allow to cool off for 5 minutes or so before serving.
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’.