Hello friends! As many of you already know our, next Tavola Tours adventure will be to the magnificent island of Sicily. We begin our tour in the capital city of Palermo. One of the traditional pasta dishes of this area is baked Anelletti, a type of Palermitani pasta that was first introduced to Sicily by the Arabs in the 9th century. As time went on, this baked pasta dish made its way across the whole island. The recipe was then adapted to include ingredients that were common to the different regions of this vast island.
Baked Anelletti is based on three classic ingredients: the Anelletti pasta, vegetables, and meat sauce. Some cooks use eggplant, while others use zucchini, or peas as their vegetables. Other versions add hard-boiled eggs, diced up pieces of salami, or even Primo Sale cheese, a young pecorino that is produced in the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. I, personally, like the classic version of this dish. Once you’ve compiled all the ingredients, this is a very easy pasta dish to make and it is absolutely heavenly- just like the “halo” shaped Anelletti would suggest.
If you are planning to visit Sicily anytime soon, you are sure to encounter some version of the Baked Anelletti. If you are not, don’t worry; you can always make this recipe at home and still have a very tasty Sicilian experience. It is definitely a fun recipe to make AND to eat!
This recipe also offers two nice options for presentation. You can bake it in a round cake pan and invert onto a serving dish; this way looks very impressive served family-style. Or, if you want to get a little fancier, you can bake it in individual molds and serve them a little more jazzed up. Either way, this dish will bring a little taste of the Palermo area of Sicily into your home.
- 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 ½ pounds ground beef
- ½ cup red wine
- 5 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 medium-sized eggplant, cut into medium to small dice pieces
- Vegetable oil (as required)
- 1 cup peas, preferably fresh, but frozen will do in a pinch
- 1 pound Anelletti pasta (little ring-shaped pasta)
- 1 cup Primo Sale or Pecorino cheese, cut into small cubes, or grated
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1 cup
How to Make Palermo-Style Baked Anelletti at Home
The Ragu (meat sauce):
- Heat a heavy-gauged sauce pot. Once it is just hot, add some olive oil and then add the onion. Lower the heat and lightly sauté the onion until soft and slightly translucent.
- Next, add the ground beef to the pot. Stir to help break the meat up. Once the meat begins to cook, stir only periodically. This way the meat has a chance to cook and create some tasty caramelization that will increase its flavor. Check that the flame is on medium-low while the meat cooks.
- Once the meat is completely browned, deglaze the bottom of the pan with the red wine. Scrape up all caramelization at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon as the wine reduces. Once the wine has reduced, add your tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the flame. Cover the pot and let it simmer over a low flame for about 30 to 40 minutes. Once the sauce has thickened, you can turn off the heat and set it aside. Taste for seasoning and readjust, if necessary.
The eggplant and peas:
- Meanwhile, submerge the cubes of eggplant in a bowl that is filled with salty water. The water should taste like the sea. Let the eggplants sit in this water for about 30 minutes. Drain them and pat them dry.
- Heat up a cast-iron skillet with enough vegetable oil to fry the eggplant cubes. Once cooked, remove them to a plate lined with absorbent paper and lightly season the eggplant with salt.
- If using fresh peas, be sure to rinse them well under cold water once shucked from their pods. Reserve all peas in a bowl until ready to use.
- Cook the Anelletti pasta in salted boiling water. You can follow the standard cooking instructions for this pasta.
- Add the peas during the last minute of cooking.
- Once cooked, drain the Anelletti with the peas from the water and place in a bowl large enough to hold the pasta, the sauce, and the vegetables.
- Mix the pasta and peas with the cheeses, fried eggplant, and the meat sauce, stirring carefully until it is well mixed. Do not break up the Anelletti. This dish looks much more impressive when served with the little pasta still in their heavenly halo shapes.
- Pour the Anelletti mixture into a well-greased springform pan or baking/casserole dish, if you prefer. Once you’ve added all the ingredients, press the pasta down with a spoon to compact it in the mold. Do not overly press if you intend to invert the mold and serve your baked Anelletti as a free-standing masterpiece.
To bake the Anelletti:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Place the baking dish containing the pasta inside and let it bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Remove from oven.
- OPTIONAL- Turn on the broiler part of your oven and return the baking dish to broil for another 3-5 minutes to nicely crisp up the top. KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE COOKING! All oven broilers are not the same and cook at different rates of speed.
- Move the dish around during this stage to ensure even cooking on the top and to not burn it. Remove from broiler.
- Leave in the pan for 10-15 minutes until the pan is cooled enough to touch. Run a butter knife or a spatula around the sides of the pan to loosen it.
- Place a big plate over the pan. Now, place one hand on the plate and the other hand on the pan. Flip the pan over and tap the exterior of the pan so that the pasta loosens. Place the plate on a counter and lift the pan away so that the baked Anelletti sits nicely onto the plate.
- Cut and serve with some additional sauce and Parmesan cheese.
If you enjoyed this Sicilian pasta recipe, please let me know and leave a comment below! If you have tried making this type of baked Anelletti dish with different ingredients or even a different pasta, I’d love to hear about that too!