Today is Father’s Day here in Australia… so happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! On such a special occasion, I usually ask my husband what he would like to eat and his answer is always the same: anelletti! This is definitely his (and my father’s) favourite dish. It is the most popular “pasta bake” in Palermo (Sicily) and it is made with a very specific pasta shape called anelletti (little rings). In Sicily it is often sold in cafés as timbaletti which are single portions that are shaped like a frustrum of a cone. When eaten at home, however, it is often made like a single “pasta cake” to be portioned and shared by the whole family. This is a very special pasta bake and it has a very Sicilian touch to it: fried eggplant. Also, instead of mozzarella, I use provolone piquant and there is no béchamel sauce. The original recipe calls for “estratto” which is a traditional Sicilian tomato concentrate paste made with ripe tomatoes dried in the sun. Its flavour is much more intense than any other tomato based product on the market. You should be able to find it online. If you are unable to locate any estratto, then make the dish without it and without the tomato purée and utilise only the tomato double concentrate (adjusting the quantity). This is one of those dishes that varies slightly from family to family… and this is my family’s recipe. So, this is for my husband Clint and for my father… the 2 best fathers I know and whom I (we) love deeply! Enjoy and Happy Father’s Day!
Ingredients (for a 24 cm – 9.5 inches round springform pan):
800 gms – 1.75 lbs minced beef
280 gms – 10 oz tomato double concentrate
350 ml – 12 oz. tomato purée
1 ½ tbsp tomato estratto
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1 cup peas
1 big eggplant, cubed and deep fried
200 gms – 7 oz. Provolone piquant, cubed small
125 gms – 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano and/or Caciocavallo finely grated
500 gms – 1 lb anelletti
Finely dice the onion and put it in a pot with the extra virgin olive oil.
Sauté on a slow fire until soft. Then add the minced beef and stir well with a wooden spoon making sure you remove all the lumps.
Brown the meat well.
Dissolve the estratto in a couple of tbsp of hot water.
Now add the estratto, tomato double concentrate and tomato purée.
Stir well, add salt and cover the sauce with water.
Cover and cook on a low fire for a couple of hours. Add water (or reduce it on the fire) if needed. The sauce has to be quite thick. 15 minutes before it is ready, add the frozen peas, mix well and continue cooking.
In the meantime, cube the eggplant into 3 x 3 cm pieces and put them in a bowl filled with salty water. Keep them in the water for half an hour. This will make the eggplant less bitter.
Remove the eggplant from the water and dry it well. Deep fry it in hot vegetable oil and put it on a plate covered with kitchen paper to drain the oil.
Cube the provolone piquant into small pieces and keep it aside.
Prepare your round springform by covering its base with baking paper. Then drizzle some vegetable oil on it and brush it well everywhere (sides included).
Now add some breadcrumbs and coat the oiled base and sides of the pan. Make sure there are no “uncoated” areas or your pasta could get stuck to the pan.
When the ragù is ready, cook the anelletti following the steps on How to cook pasta “al dente”. Only cook it for about HALF the time written on the package. I actually cook this specific brand for 6 minutes (out of the 17 suggested)! This step is really important so that the final result is not overcooked. Remember that the pasta will keep cooking both while mixing it with the hot ragù and in the oven, so do not worry… it will NOT be raw.
Drain the anelletti and mix them with the ragù, Parmigiano Reggiano, cubed provolone piquant and fried eggplant. Stir until well combined.
Now pour it into the ready springform pan. Make sure to press the pasta down well with a wooden spoon to make it compact. This will help you unmould it.
Sprinkle the top with some more breadcrumbs.
Now you have 2 options: you can bake it immediately or put it in the fridge and bake it the day after. If you decide to bake it the day after, put it immediately in the fridge so the temperature drops and the pasta stops cooking. When I do this, I also make sure that the ragù I mix it with is COLD and not hot, this helps to control the cooking time.
If you bake it immediately, bake it in a preheated oven at 220°C (200°C for a fan forced oven) for about 8 minutes and then turn the grill on and grill for another 8 minutes, until the breadcrumbs become crunchy.
If you bake it the following day, remember to bring it back to room temperature before putting it in the oven. Then cover it with foil and bake it in a preheated oven at 220°C (200°C for a fan forced oven) for about 12-15 minutes and then remove the foil, turn the grill on and grill for another 10 minutes, until the breadcrumbs become crunchy.
The difference in cooking time is due to 2 factors: the pasta baked immediately is still hot and keeps cooking continuously until you eat it… so it does not require a lot of time in the oven. The pasta prepared the previous day instead (especially if you mixed it with cold ragù) has been kept in the fridge, so it stopped cooking and needs to be reheated AND cooked… which takes a little longer. If after being in the oven for 25 minutes, the pasta is not as hot as you like it (I like my pasta very hot…), you can put it for a few seconds in the microwave, AFTER you have cut it.
When cooked, take it out of the oven and run a spatula or a butter knife all around the sides to loosen it. Then put a big plate on the top of the springform pan and, holding the plate AND the springform pan at the same time, flip it over (I always get my husband to do this!). Then gently tap the outside of the pan everywhere, to loosen it further. Now you can open up the springform pan and unmould your “pasta cake”.
Cut it up and serve immediately.