The mysterious origin of lasagna vincisgrassi

Almost every family of Le Marche has its own version of vincisgrassi, the regional signature lasagna. But despite its popularity, this delicious dish has a mysterious origin.

Some say it was created in 1799, by a local cook who wanted to pay homage to an Austrian general (von Windisch-Graetz) who had strenuously defended the city of Ancona from the occupying Napoleon’s troops. According to a more recent hypothesis, the origin must be postponed to 1849, when Ancona was again under siege. However, a similar lasagna, with almost the same name (princisgrass), was already included in a 1779 cookbook.

Here is the vincisgrassi recipe by Fabio Trabocchi, a great chef from Le Marche who works in the U.S. He published Cucina of Le Marche: a can’t-miss cookbook for those who want to discover the rich variety of food traditions of the region.

Serves 6–8

8 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 slice prosciutto di parma, 1/4- inch thick, about 6 ounces, diced

3 cups finely diced onions

1 cup finely diced celery

1 cup finely diced carrots

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 1/2 pounds boneless veal shoulder, trimmed, in 1/4-inch dice

3 cups dry Marsala

2 cups veal stock

6 cups chicken stock

3 whole cloves

1 bay leaf, 1 sprig rosemary, 1 sprig thyme, tied together

Salt and black pepper

1 oz dried porcini

4 cups heavy cream

1 large egg

1 pound cremini mushrooms, finely chopped

5 sheets fresh pasta for lasagna, each about 9 by 12 inches

2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Shaved truffles for garnish

Place 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto and sauté until starting to brown. Lower heat to medium-low and add onions, celery and carrots. Cook until soft but not brown. Stir in tomato paste and cook 2 minutes.

Heat 4 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add veal and sauté over medium-high heat until meat starts to brown. Transfer veal to the saucepan, draining it well.

Discard fat in sauté pan. Return pan to medium-high heat, add Marsala and boil, loosening the residue in the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until reduced to 2 cups. Pour into saucepan. Add veal stock, 2 cups of chicken stock, cloves and herbs. Partly cover and simmer 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper then set aside.

Place porcini in warm water to cover and soak. Meanwhile, make the bèchamel sauce by combining the cream and remaining 4 cups chicken stock in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook about 1 hour, until thickened and reduced to 2 cups. Pour into a blender and process on low, then higher speed. Add egg and process briefly. Taste and season with salt and pepper, strain into a bowl and set aside to cool.

Squeeze porcini dry and chop. Add remaining olive oil to a skillet, add all mushrooms and sauté until cremini have started browning. Fold into the veal mixture — the ragù — and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have a large bowl of salted ice water ready. Line a large baking sheet with kitchen towels. Add pasta sheets to boiling water one at a time, cook each 2 minutes then place in ice water. Drain pasta sheets and spread on towels to dry.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush a 9-by-13-inch lasagna pan with remaining butter. Lay a sheet of pasta in pan. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Spread about 1/4 of the ragù over cheese. Spread on 1/2 cup cream sauce. Continue layering until covered with last sheet of pasta. Spread with remaining cream sauce, then remaining cheese.

Bake 25 minutes, until bubbling. Increase heat to 400°F and bake about 5 minutes more to brown the top. Remove from the oven and let stand 20 minutes before cutting into squares and serving. Garnish with shaved black truffle if you’re feeling decadent.