Pasticcio with Meat Ragu, Cabbage and Robiola Cheese
When I travel, I buy magazines to read while trapped in airports and airplanes. Typically, they’re trashy gossip rags, but for my trip home to Texas for Christmas, I bypassed the gossip sheets for La Cucina Italiana magazine and others.
Talk about a good decision.
The December 2010 issue is chock full of recipes I immediately wanted to try. Actually, in one week’s time, I tried two recipes that were entirely new to me. First up was pasticcio di pane, verza e robiola. According to La Cucina Italiana, the recipe was inspire by the zuppe di pane, a bread soup.
Whatever the inspiration, it’s a great recipe that layers together a meat ragu, cabbage, slices of bread and robiola and grana padano cheeses together. Even after cleaning all the dirty pots and dishes that came with making this, I still enjoyed it enough that I would make it again. It’s a hearty, comforting winter dish that’ll come in handy the next time I want to hole up at home instead of facing the freezing temperatures that come with living in Omaha in the winter.
Now, for those of raising your eyebrows at the cabbage, don’t worry; I raised mine too. In my world, cabbage is for cole slaw and that’s about it. But for this dish, you simmer it in vegetable broth, which infused it with some additional flavor without reducing the cabbage to mush. In fact, the cabbage gave the dish some needed texture that the bread, ragu and cheese wouldn’t have delivered.
And for those of you who furrowed your brow because you’re wondering what robiola cheese is, don’t worry; I did too. Some Googling gave me an inkling of what it was, but not enough. Luckily, the cheese counter at my Whole Foods had it on hand.
The variety I purchased looked like a small, square brie. It had a similar texture, but it smelled a little more like a blue cheese than brie. Scraped out of the rind and eaten right off a spoon, it was great. In fact, if the lady at the Whole Foods counter hadn’t been surprised I asked for it and told me that it was typically available, I could imagine using it instead of brie or camembert.
Pasticcio di Pane, Ragu, Verza e Robiola
(from La Cucina Italiana, December 2010)
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds ground beef (use the good stuff!)
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound cabbage, cored, sliced into 1-inch strips and leaves separated
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
Pinch of nutmeg
Fresh ground pepper
9 ounces Robiola cheese
12 slices white bread (the recipe calls for something like Pepperidge Farm, but I used some Italian bread I had on hand)
1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or parmesan
In a medium saucepan, saute the onion, carrot and celery in the olive until the vegetables are soft.
Reduce the heat to low and add the ground beef, breaking it up with your spoon into little pieces. Add the tomato paste and a generous pinch of salt.
Keep the burner on low. Stir the beef occasionally. You’re not browning the beef quickly, you’re simmering it on low. I point this out only because I wasn’t sure what to make of this step when I read the directions originally. This will take about an hour to cook through.
While the beef is simmering away to become a ragu, combine the cabbage, 2 cups of vegetable broth and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a dutch oven or similarly large, heavy-bottom pot. Bring it all to a simmer. Stir it frequently and cook it until the broth has nearly evaporated. This took about 30 minutes on my stove. It may take you more or less.
When the ground beef has become ragu through the magic of simmering, stir in the nutmeg and a good pinch or two of ground pepper.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Slice the robiola into thin strips. You want to make sure there are at least 12 strips for the layering.
In a 9×13 pan, evenly spread half of the cabbage. There may or may not be enough to cover the entire bottom of the pan. Don’t worry if there isn’t. It’ll be fine.
Next, cover the cabbage with 1/3 of the beef and six bread slices. Cover the top layer of bread with the remaining cabbage, 1/3 of the ragu and half of the robiola. For the final layers, place the last six slices of bread roughly over the first six; pour the vegetable broth evenly over the bread. Then, spread the last of the ragu over the bread and layer the robiola cheese and grana padano on top.
Drizzle the last 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the top and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the dish is hot and the cheese has melted.