YIELD: 6 SERVINGS
2 Tbsps. pork lard (preferably) or unsalted butter
2 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsps. chopped pancetta
2 lbs. sweet Italian sausages, cut into 1" pieces
1 cup dry red wine (such as Chianti)
2 lbs. canned whole tomatoes, with their liquid, chopped
5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
Bouquet garni, consisting of 10 sprigs of fresh parsley, 10 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried), tied in cheesecloth
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsps. unsalted butter
3 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
2 cups hot or warm whole milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
1 lb. rigatoni 1
lb. fresh mozzarella, diced or shredded
1. For the tomato sauce: In a large flame- and oven-proof enameled cast-iron casserole, melt the lard with the olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion and pancetta, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the sausages and cook, tossing, until browned, about 8 minutes.
2. Pour in the wine to deglaze the casserole, scraping up the bits on the bottom of the casserole, then add the tomatoes and their liquid. Add the garlic and bouquet garni, and season with black pepper. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until dense and unctuous, about 4 hours.
3. For the béchamel sauce: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir to form a roux. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk until it is all blended. Season with salt, white pepper, and nutmeg. Return the saucepan to the heat, reduce to medium-low, and cook, stirring almost constantly, until thick, about 12 minutes. (Makes about 2 cups.)
4. Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a vigorous boil, and add the rigatoni. Cook until al dente and then drain. Transfer the rigatoni to the casserole and toss with the sausage-tomato sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top, then spread the Béchamel sauce evenly over that. Bake until the top is dappled with brown spots, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, let rest 5 to 10 minutes, and serve.
Recipe: Bake Until Bubbly, by Clifford A. Wright, used with permission.