When you think about the cuisine of Naples, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the traditional “ragú” – a slow cooked meat sauce – or spaghetti with fresh tomatoes sauce. Here it is an unexpected Neapolitan dish I am sure you will love: Pasta al gratin or – as they call it in Naples – Maccheroni al gratté.
This is typically a holiday dish, however it is simple enough to become a weekday alternative to one of your pasta dishes. I have to warn you that this is not a diet friendly dish but it is sure delicious . . . I trust this could become one of your new favorites!
It is basically a baked pasta seasoned with béchamel sauce and enriched with few extra ingredients. One of the beauty of the dish is the flexibility in the choice of ingredients. Mozzarella is usually the cheese of choice – that’s what I used – but you can substitute with Emmenthal or another mild cheese of your like. At time, hard-boiled eggs are also added. Diced ham, prosciutto or mortadella are generally used. This time, however, I decided to use speck – salt cured /smoked ham – which add a smoky flavor to the dish. Beside loving speck for its intense aroma and flavor, it also brings back a very special memory: my honeymoon!
While traveling by car from Ravello to Vienna, my newlywed husband and I stopped first in San Gimignano, in Tuscany, and then to Merano, in the South Tyrol. While crossing the Alps, between Vipiteno and Bressanone, we stopped at a tiny shack by the side of the road and there, while overwhelmed by the breathtaking scenery, we had the most memorable merenda (snack): warm rye bread (Pusterer Breatl), fresh butter and…speck! How can I forget, it was August 1, 1996 . . I had been married for six days!
Enough with the nonsense, here it is my ricetta. I hope you will love it!
MACCHERONI AL GRATTÉ
1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces)
1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk, at room temperature
Pinch fresh nutmeg
2 cups cubed mozzarella
1/3 pound thinly sliced speck, cut into strips (reserve the strip of fat from each slice)
1 pound dry ziti ( you can also use penne or rigatoni)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Simmer until it is thick enough to coat the back of the whisker – approximately 10 minutes.
Add the ziti to the boiling water and cook 2 minute less than the indicated time (the pasta will finish cooking in the oven). Into a greased 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pour a little of the béchamel sauce.
Add 2/3 of mozzarella, 2/3 speck, and grated parmigiano.
Mix well, add remaining speck and mozzarella.
Top with remaining béchamel sauce. Arrange the strips of speck’s fat on top. (this is my variation to the ribbons of butter)
Cover with aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes.