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Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna

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Savory lasagna in a chocolate meat sauce, a century old recipe from one aristocratic Sicilian family. Easy, quick, delicious and no, it doesn't taste funny.

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This Sicilian recipe is over a century old. I found it in several blue-blooded Sicilian cookbooks and settled on the recipe from Il Diamante della Grande Cucina Siciliana, the most accomplished of these cookbooks. It uses cinammon and chocolate in a meat sauce - unusual but very successful.

There are two ways you can serve this dish. Either you mention it's a chocolate meat sauce and people will treat it as a curiosity. Most will end up thinking that it tastes great despite the chocolate. Or you can shut up and just serve the homemade pasta and people will wonder about the secret ingredient. The chocolate really does not show much in the final product and not all of your guests will guess where that luscious, velvety shine comes from. In any case it's a delicious, highly authentic and really quick pasta sauce to make.

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We first prepare the rag¨ [ragoo]. Take one large onion...

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... peel and finely chop it.

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Gently fry the chopped onion in a heavy-bottomed pot with a little oil.

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When the onion is soft, add the meat mince...

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... and sautÚ over high heat, mixing constantly.

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The goal is to brown the meat all over. You need enough surface and enough heat to do so, otherwise the meat will render its juice, lowering the heat and making any further browning impossible. If this happens, just remove half the onion-meat mixture and sautÚ in two installments. The browning is an important part of the flavor base.

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With the heat still on high, add a glass of red wine and let it bubble and the alcool evaporate.

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Scratch the bottom of the pot with your spoon to dissolve any browned bits stuck to the pot.

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Add 1 cup tomato purÚe, and then about 30 grams dark chocolate. Let the chocolate melt and mix. If you feel bad about adding chocolate to a meat sauce, try first with a little bit, mix, taste and then add the rest. If it can make you feel better chocolate is a popular ingredient at US chili con carne competitions. It really works well and will not taste funny.

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Finally the cinammon, a very common ingredient in Sicilian meat rag¨ and a clear oriental influence on Sicilian cuisine. Cover and simmer on a very low flame for at least 40 minutes.

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Now for the pasta. You can serve this on any flat egg noodles, but for the authentic, tradition-approved pasta shape you'll need a little work. We don't fear work at FXcuisine and prepared the sciabb˘, ([shiabaw] from French jabot, frill) a sort of lasagna with ragged edges. Combine 4 eggs with flour in the usual manner (see my other recipes) and let it rest for 30 minutes.

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Laminate the pasta but not too thin, and cut in 10cm/4'' long strips about 2.5cm/1'' wide. Here I used a fancy ravioli cutter but a more appropriate tool would have been a straight roller with jagged edges.

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Work on a cloth or wood bench so that the pasta won't stick and let it dry for a moment either on another piece of cotton cloth, a towel or a pasta drying rack (picture).

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Plunge the pasta delicately in a large pot of salted water brought to a rolling boil ...

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... and remove after only about 60 seconds. DO NOT pour the water off on some strainer as this would break the pasta.

Combine with the sauce, using a little bit of the pasta cooking water to make it more liquid if needed.

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Serve as a first course or main course.

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Serve with a little bit of grated Parmesan.

Published 10/01/2008
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If you do this recipe at home please let me know how it worked for you by submitting a comment or send me a picture if you can. Thanks!



38 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by cheese_puff
  • on: 10/01/2008
This looks great! I have tried some of your recipes, and they work like magic. :)Here in US, some chocolate is "darker" than others, with cocoa concent>70%. I wonder what kind of dark chocolate you used--a little sweet or very bitter? Thanks, fx!
  • #2
  • Comment by cookery
  • on: 11/01/2008
fx, I am addicted to your delicious blog. I am curious about the preparation of this recipe, specifically the choice of lasagna: if it is not layered and baked, why not use pappardelle?  
  • #3
  • Comment by Callipygia
  • on: 11/01/2008
Dear FX I am a lurker but just wanted to say that your site is absolutely fascinating- I am thoroughly impressed with what you eat, how you make it, the research, photography etc. I was kind of curious tho, for this lasagna- are the wide lasagna noodles really traditionally eaten tossed with this sauce? Do you think that it works better than something less cumbersome? When I was a student in Italy our history prof. said that the different pasta shapes and sizes "tasted" different with the same sauce. I thought he was out there...but have come to understand.
  • #4
  • Comment by M.
  • on: 14/01/2008
I'm a little bit surprised by your choise of some of the Amazon links at this weblog. Is it because of the visitors or fees they generate or is it because of a connection between the links and the content of your webog which I fail to see.
  • #5
  • Comment by Macha.Picha
  • on: 15/01/2008
Interesting but it reminds me of a mediocre chocolate curry I had once. I wonder if these things are mere variations of the look-I-managed-to-hide-chocolate-in-here dish? I'll have to try it out!
  • #6
  • Comment by Derek
  • on: 16/01/2008
In response to cheese_puff, I've cooked with chocolate before and always use dark chocolate for stuff like this.  I made this dish last night and used 70% cocoa; it was great.  I could happily have used a higher cocoa chocolate too, maybe a 75 or an 80.  I don't think I'd use much less than 70, though.
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 16/01/2008
Derek I am glad this dish worked for you! Indeed, bitter chocolate works best in meat sauces.
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 16/01/2008
Macha there is nothing mediocre or fashionable about this recipe. It has kept for 150 years and works out amazingly well. If you are doubtful just add the chocolate gradually so you'll be confident you can still use the meat sauce if you don't like the chocolate. But this is a serious recipe, not some fancy trick. Let me know if you try it!
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 16/01/2008
The Amazon products that show on FXcuisine.com are a bit like a mirror. They are chosen by Amazon.com based on what YOU purchased or looked at last. I do not choose any of these links.
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 16/01/2008
Thanks a lot for coming out of the bush to say hello! Yes indeed, the Italians are very particular about pasta shapes and you could think sometimes their mind has been frozen in some parts. This dish is served with super wide noodles - lasagna - with ragged edges. Period. But you and me, as foreigners, could very well serve it with other flat noodles and the taste would be very similar to us. I hope this helps!
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 16/01/2008
The reason is tradition. Italians are extremely strict on tradition. They are more like the Japanese in that respect that most Italians would admit. But you can definitely do this with papardelle or other flat noodles.
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 16/01/2008
Use the most bitter chocolate you can find and add it gradually, tasting the sauce every time you add more chocolate.
  • #13
  • Comment by Brian
  • on: 21/01/2008
I once cooked a ragu, using prosciutto and minced beef, milk and red wine, flavoured with star anise and some fish sauce (among other things) cooked slowly for 3 hours, and it developed an unexpected but fantastic chocolatey flavour, so this doesn't seem so strange. I'm looking forward to trying it.
  • #14
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 22/01/2008
Brian your rag¨ sounds delicious! This chocolate rag¨ is quite fast to prepare but you could definitely simmer it for 2 hours.
Really enjoyed this -- simple, direct,fun, tasty. Beautiful color but I will back out the chocolate a bit or use a different type than my first go-round.   Thanks for the site.
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 12/02/2008
Chris you should really give the chocolate-in-the-meat-sauce its chance. There is very little of it and it works well. You can add it pinch by pinch if you doubt it. Don't forget that one of the most popular sauces in Mexico, mole poblano, uses much more chocolate!
  • #17
  • Comment by Shey Getz
  • on: 21/02/2008
Nice one, will try that on the weekend. (I'll probably double the choc just for kicks.) Gee whizz, all the contortions you made to make your audience accept a slighly unusual ingedient. I find it surprising that such a website should be frequented by such an unenterprising lot. I should be surprised if pasta this large and "not too thin" should be half done in just 60 seconds, but that's easy to find out. For some reason you fail to give the amount of meat you used or the enumber of persons served. 300g for 4 I presume? If I may add a piece of advice of my own, the ragu will be so much improved if one cuts up a good cut of beef (loin, rump) oneself into very fine cubes instead of using minced meat from the supermarket or butcher even. I was surprised as to how much of a difference it made, when I read that in an - yep - Italian cookbook. Enjoy!
  • #18
  • Comment by jiyin
  • on: 22/02/2008
I tried out this recipe last night, and it was delicious!  I used bitter 71% chocolate, and added a little bit of red pepper.  It was lovely, reminiscent of mole poblano, which you mention above.  Not weird at all.  Thank you for the recipe!
  • #19
  • Comment by Shey Getz
  • on: 22/02/2008
[Follow-up] Tried it this night just for myself, quite excellent. A strong, aromatic, smooth taste. The pasta took about two minutes, but hey you just try a piece and if it's done, it's done. I put the dough through my pasta maker to a medium thickness, slightly thicker than I'd usually have tagliatelle, hung the broad strips to dry for a couple of minutes. I then floured them very well, folded them up and cut them about 2cm wide with a knife, then unfolded  them into the cooking water.Don't forget to add salt and pepper (the receipe doesn't mention it), I suggest after the frying of the meat.You'll obviously want red wine to go with it, as it also goes into it. Don't be timid in your choice, I suggest either a well matured Barolo or a Cannonau from Sardegna - in keeping with the recipes origin - or a bearish Shiraz.
  • #20
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 23/02/2008
Shey, thanks a lot for visiting! Yes I never buy ready-ground meat and choose a cut, then ask the butcher to grind it for me. I'll soon have another accessory for my Kenwood Major and be able to electrically grind in my kitchen. As for cutting the meat up into tiny cubes with a knife, my friend you are braver than me! For the quantity of meat I'd use 100gr per person or so.
  • #21
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 23/02/2008
Thanks for trying my Sicilian Chocolate Lasagna, Jiyin!
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 23/02/2008
Thanks Shey, I am glad you managed to try the Chocolate Lasagna recipe! With fresh pasta it's best to remove it from the boiling water right after rigor mortis, it cooks very fast and anyway will continue to cook out of the pot by the retained heat and then some more in the sauce. I've never seen fresh pasta that was too much 'al dente' but countless times I've seen overcooked, bland, wet-towel-like pasta. Great wine tips!
  • #23
  • Comment by Derek
  • on: 01/03/2008
Fx...in response to Shey's comment about the beef in cubes instead of ground--I wonder if he means to use cubed meat and later grind it like you do in the Papardelle in walnut sauce?  That technique worked very good in that dish; might work well here, too.  Shey--any comment?
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/03/2008
Derek, I think you could definitely use the same technique for the Chocolate Lasagna as used in the Papardelle in Walnut Sauce. The point is to brown the meat, simmer it and have a smooth sauce. But of course, no electrical mixer, or you'll end up with soup!
  • #25
  • Comment by lucia
  • on: 20/06/2008
food porn...wow, these recipes with their pictures arouse. Being a sensualist, one can only imagine engaging the senses and full. Besides feeding our bodies, food nourishes the soul.

Thank you so much for the pics and recipes.

A true bon vivant.
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 21/06/2008
Lucia, indeed bon vivant I am, born and bred! As for the food porn, I hope it will convince you to try this out on your own, it is astonishing and very simple!
  • #27
  • Comment by Julie
  • on: 29/09/2008
Hi fx
Tried this recipe tonight on my somewhat cynical husband but he was won over. It really is simple but very unusual & delicious. Will be trying it out on friends in future. Just came back from Sicily but didn't see this recipe on any menus there.
I see you are a fellow Montalbano fan. I have been trying the find an authentic recipe for pasta n'casciata and yours looks very interesting. I will try it out as soon as time allows.  
  • #28
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 30/09/2008
Julie, I'm glad your husband finally liked the chocolate pasta! Good that you tried, some people think it's just a gimmick and it's not. The chocolate is only a small, but essential, part of the sauce. You can do my n'casciata with closed eyes, it's a great recipe too!
  • #29
  • Comment by Silvia
  • on: 02/11/2008
Hi F. Xavier, that is really a nice name.  This is my first time writting in these blogs.  But, since I read your recipes so enthusiastically, which I can tell you, is the best I┤ve seen!!  It seems, while I┤am reading, that we are sitting and exchaging recipes.  Though, this is not the case, what I really meant, is that I feel at home here.  Fantastic, continue making others happy whith your unique way of writting and being.  I┤am Brazilian, with the wrong idea that Swiss people are coooollldd.  But you are a really cozy creature.  Big kiss,  Silvia
  • #30
  • Comment by Geoff Ball
  • on: 05/12/2008
Pasta and Italians, they have pretty set ways, but they do work.

In Mexico City I was in the one restaurant with a group a friends and we tried a number of local dishes, one was Pollo Mole, or chocolate chicken. Flavour was good but was a bit greasy.

The only thing on the trip to Mexico I didn't try was the chapulines (grasshoppers) in Oaxaca.  It wasn't so much that they were insects but the smell.
  • FX's answer→ Indeed, mole poblano is one of the famous bourgeois dishes of Mexican Cuisine, a very long recipe!

Tried this for Valentine's Day as a main dish.  Worked pretty well with plain cooked lasagne (which, I'm afraid, I got out of a box -- I don't roll my own).
  • FX's answer→ Well done EJ, now next time please try to make your own lasagna, it is dead easy, all you need is a rolling pin and a table.

  • #34
  • Comment by Siri Gottlieb
  • on: 05/03/2009
Hello! I've just discovered your fantastic site. I'm puzzled: why no actual measurements? And what kind of meat?
  • FX's answer→ Siri, measurements are for those who can't cook, professional Italian chefs would transmit such a recipe in this way. But of course I don't write only for those! In fact the article was written some time after I made the dish and I didn't have the recipe from the other location. But Italian cuisine is forgiving, it should work fine if you follow the approximate quantities you see in the pics. Great recipe, by the way!

  • #36
  • Comment by Graham
  • on: 11/05/2009
I made this this evening and we all thought it was great.
My problem is that to simmer it for 40 minutes or more means it becoming dry as only a glass of wine and a cup of tomato puree produce only a very little liquid. I didn't want to add water so I used 2 tins of tomatoes which I think saved the dish.
I love your blog and the photos are great too.
  • FX's answer→ Yes it might need a little more water, but if you cover the pot it won't evaporate so fast. Glad it worked for you in the end!

  • #38
  • Comment by bobbyd
  • on: 30/09/2010
Hi, I loved reading your recipe. I was looking for a recipe for chocolate pasta with chocolate meat sauce and was surprised to find only yours which sounds not only great, but simple and easy to make.

I have one from Giuliano Bugialli which uses chocolate pasta as well, pasta al cioccolato in dolce-forte. It's got more stuff but it's easy and GREAT!!! He said that it's a Christmas Season tradition in some parts of Italy.

So, now I've got 2;-))) These can't be the ONLY one's!!

I'm looking forward to trying your's;-)!

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