Pasticcio alla fiorentina
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Pasticcio alla fiorentina

Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you like) is how the great Italian saying goes, but when you are like me and have spent more than half your life in places other than home, the word ‘family’ gains a

Thu 12 Dec 2013 6:00 PM

Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you like) is how the great Italian saying goes, but when you are like me and have spent more than half your life in places other than home, the word ‘family’ gains a new meaning: people close to you can become even more special, as do celebratory feast days. I love to celebrate Christmas through friends and food, especially when I am in Italy and enjoying wonderful local hospitality.



In Florence, good friends have become my family, and I have become part of theirs. In addition to Florentines, I also have Greek and Australian friends in Florence, and even ‘foreigners’ from as far away as Puglia and Sicily! Sometimes, it seems that my southern Italian friends are thought of as more foreign than I am in Florence. They don’t speak the Florentine dialect—neither do I—but the cultures of the various regions of Italy have strong differences and history, something particularly evident in their food.


Over the years, my Christmas Eve table has included cappelletti in brodo (pasta thought to look like the navel of Venus, served in broth), arista al forno (oven-roasted pork) and even a dessert inspired by that made by Cinzia at Fonte de’ Medici in Greve in Chianti, with cantuccini cookies soaked in custard and vin santo.


This Christmas Eve, I’ll be making pasticcio alla fiorentina, also known as timballo de’ Medici. This noble dish, which combines pasta, ragù and pastry, beef, pork and béchamel sauce (or velouté when made with stock) is cooked in the oven in a pie dish. While this is some good home cooking with beef, pork and cavolo nero baked together in a delightfully comforting way, it is also una vera bomba—an incredibly indulgent dish!


Whether you are with family or friends, at home or in Florence, I hope this amazing pie brings comfort and joy to you all this Christmas.





Pasticcio alla fiorentina

(Serves 4)




For the short-crust pastry:

300g white flour, preferably of the 00 variety

180g butter

5g salt

10g sugar

1 egg

Cold water

200g pennoni or similar large pasta to stuff


For the meat sauce:

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion

1 celery stalk

2 bay leaves

3 garlic cloves

300g lean beef, roughly diced

300g pork, roughly minced

1 small glass of red wine


1 small bottle tomato sauce (passata)

Salt and pepper to taste


For the velouté:

2 bunches black-leaf kale

50g butter

45g white flour

1 litre vegetable stock (from the black-leaf kale)

Salt and pepper to taste





Blend the flour with the salt in a food processor, add the butter in cold diced cubes and blend until the mixture resembles rough breadcrumbs. Add the egg and about 100ml of cold water, blending again to form a dough. Roll into a ball, flatten and refrigerate for at least half an hour.


Cook the pasta in lots of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, toss in a little extra-virgin olive oil and set aside. Sauté the diced onion in a heavy-based pan with extra-virgin olive oil, then add the diced celery stalk followed by the bay leaves. Add the minced pork and diced beef, and cook to give colour. Once the meat has browned, add the small glass of red wine, (the same wine you are planning to serve with the pie). Let this reduce, add the passata, season with salt and pepper and add the chopped parsley and garlic. Cook until tender and add water if necessary while cooking. This should simmer for about 90 minutes.


Cook a couple of bunches of black leaf kale in the litre of boiling salted water. After five minutes, remove the kale and set aside to cool. Chop roughly and set aside. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy-based pan, add the flour and stir in to make a roux, whisking in the vegetable stock made by cooking the kale, adding a little at a time to give the flour a chance to thicken the sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.


Take half of the short-crust pastry and roll out to fill a large round pie dish. Cover with half of the kale sauce. Stuff the cooked pasta with the ragù and place artfully around the pastry and sauce. Top with the cooked and sliced kale. Place the other half of the kale sauce on top. Finally, roll out the other half of the pastry and place on top, securing the edges and using the trimmings to make a garnish on the pastry. Paint with an egg yolk for colour. Bake at 365°F (185°C) for 50 minutes. Let it rest for 20 minutes before cutting.



Wine Match For a special time like Christmas Eve, with a great pie and great company, I like to serve an extraordinary wine. I bought just six bottles of Solaia 1999, Antinori (75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 percent Cabernet Franc, 20 percent Sangiovese) at auction a few years ago, and I still have four left for special occasions.

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