BAKED PASTITSIO WITH HAM AND RICOTTA (pastitsio, “mess” in Italian, di maccheroni, with ricotta and provolone cheeses, for eight)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian cooked ham, preferably parmacotto, cut into ½ inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small carrot, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups basic tomato sauce
1 pound elbow macaroni, penne, ziti or other tubular pasta
2 pounds fresh ricotta
8 ounces caicotta or hard provolone, cut into small dice
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the ham cubes and brown for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add carrot, onion and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until the meat is just about falling apart, about 50 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Keep the sauce warm.
3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450*. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
4. Cook the macaroni in the boiling water for 1 minute less than the package directions, until still very al dente. While the pasta is cooking, place the ricotta in a small bowl and stir in two ladles of the pasta cooking water to “melt” it.
5. Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta and caicotto to the tomato sauce and stir to combine.
6. Grease a round 12 inch deep pie dish or a casserole with olive oil. Place a ladleful of the cheese and sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish, followed by a layer of the pasta and meat mixture. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Parmigiano over, then repeat with another layer of the cheese and sauce mixture, then pasta and meat, and Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used up. Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.
adapted from Mario Batali, Molto Italiano