Vincisgrassi, the real recipe
I’m used to say that I was born in Le Marche region but I’m not from this region (my parents come from South Italy), because I first tried Vincisgrassi only when I was 30. That says it all! Vincisgrassi is one of the most eaten regional dishes in Marche region and I didn’t know its flavour until 2 years ago.
Have you ever seen Lasagne? Well, Vincisgrassi are very similar to them, but please… do not call them simply ‘lasagne‘! Lasagne are typical of Bologna while Vincisgrassi are prepared in many different ways almost eveywhere in Le Marche region. Would you like to know how? Download the recipe.
The legends of Vincisgrassi
Vincisgrassi are the symbol of Le Marche cuisine together with olive all’ascolana (fried olives stuffed with meat) and brodetto di pesce (fish broth). If you visit this region, you cannot leave it without tasting a portion of Vincisgrassi. This is the king of the Sundays lunch and you can find it on the family tables from Ancona to Macerata province. There is also an association to protect the original recipe of Vincisgrassi.
For non-Italian people Vincisgrassi is an unpronunceable word but it has its own reason to exist. It comes from a legend or maybe not. Actually, the legends are 2.
The first one dates back to the Napoleon time. Le Marche region was a territory occupied by Napoleonic troops. Among the soldiers there was an Austrian general called Windisch Graetz. His chef created a dish with local ingredients. Windisch Graetz liked that kind of lasagna and the chef dedicated the dish to the general. There is another version of this legend. The Austrian general was tired and hungry, so that he stopped at a farm house. He asked for food and the woman tried to prepare a rich dish for him. She cooked a tomato sauce with left-overs of meat and knead the dough for the lasagne. The general was impressed of what the woman prepared and afterwards ordered to his chef to prepare the same dish.
The second legend is related to a cook book written by Antonio Nebbia in 1779. In this book, entitled Il cuoco maceratese (i.e. the chef from Macerata), he mentioned a recipe for preparing the ‘princisgras‘ sauce. This strange name meant the ‘grease of princes’. Antonio Nebbia is very important in the Italian cuisine because he wrote the very first cook book used throughout Italy until the famous cook book of Pellegrino Artusi “The Science of cooking and the Art of Eating Well” was printed.
Now you know where the name of this dish comes from. It’s likely that the legend of the Austrian general has been invented just to give emphasis to the regional dish. In fact the recipe of Antonio Nebbia already existed 20 years before the Napoleonic occupation.
Let’s eat Vincisgrassi
As every regional dishes, Vincisgrassi are made of the territory where they were born. The ingredients are typical of the region. I live in Le Marche and it is very common, when I go to a restaurant, to find in the menu very poor dishes made of the same ingredients used for the Vincisgrassi.
Until the 17th century Vincisgrassi had been cooked by pouring boiled water on them. The oven, where today Vincisgrassi are normally baked, was invented only in the 18th century. It is possible to see an ancient oven in the Museo della nostra terra in Pievetorina. In that period there were plenty of ways to prepare lasagne and it was a dish only for rich people due to one of its ingredients: meat. This was only for those who had enough money to buy it. Lasagne and all the similar dishes started to be eaten by the poor between the 19th and the 20th century.
Recipes of regional dishes can vary from an area to another. For example in Ancona, the city where I live, Vincisgrassi are prepared with ragù and bechamel while in Macerata the preparation is a little bit different. Anyway, over the years the procedure to prepare Vincisgrassi was modified many times and the result is that nowadays they are prepared in many different ways changing from an area to another and from family to family.
In 1891 Anonimo marchigiano in his book talked about “vigras” recipe made of offal. In 1899 Sebastiana Papa wrote a book La cucina dei monasteri (i.e. The cuisine of monasteries), in which she talked about a stew that it is still used to flavour the puff pastry.
Preparing Vincisgrassi at home is not so difficult. Subscribe to the #FoodIS newsletter and download the Vincisgrassi recipe. Try to make it at your home and buon appetito!
Photo credit by Luca Tombesi