Cook book

Lasagna: yesterday and today

Lasagna must be one of the most delectable dishes in the Italian repertoire. Lasagna, however, unlike most Italian dishes is not a simple preparation. Lasagna is a carefully planned assembly. While the individual lasagna ingredients are quite simple, putting those ingredients together is very complex; and, depending on what you chose to include, it can be somewhat expensive. In my childhood, lasagna was not something you saw all the time. In my childhood, lasagna was a holiday dish. From some acquaintances of Italian origin, lasagna was not known at any time of the year. In my family, lasagna has always been the first main course for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. It was a dense casserole of alternating layers of lasagna, ricotta cheese and what we called “the sauce”.

Of course, since lasagna was only served on holidays, it was only part of a multi-course holiday dinner. These dinners usually started around 1 p.m. and continued into the night. During the holidays, there was a complex arrangement of dishes. First came the fruit salad. It was a mix of canned Dole fruit salad with the addition of selected fresh fruit served in tall glass mugs chilled with ice. I don’t know the origin of this course. It was definitely not Italian. This may have been influenced by what restaurants served in the 1950s.

But what is the history of lasagna? In the world on the internet, I have access to information from all over the world, I have done a thorough review of the history of lasagna online. Working from Google Italy and our own US Google, I found a multitude of variations on lasagna recipes and history. According to several sites, lasagna is one of the oldest foods. It seems that lasagne has its origins in an ancient Greek dish “laganon” or “lasonon”. The Romans adopted this dish and called it “lansanum”. There are also several sites that claim lasagna as a dish of British origin called “loseyns” as found in a medieval cookbook from the late 14th century. While these springs might be something possible, I should also note that a fair amount of water has passed under the bridge since ancient times. I somewhat doubt that the “lasanum” of the Romans or the “loysens” of the British is the lasagna we know today. Then too, there is the question of the tomato. While not all lasagna recipes call for tomatoes, (there are a number of “white lasagna” dishes), tomatoes in most recipes are now important. But, the use of tomatoes in the dish would not have occurred until well after Columbus. The use of tomatoes also took time. When they were first introduced to Europe from the New World, they were considered poisonous. In 1544 the Italian herbalist, Pietro Matthioli classified tomatoes as highly poisonous. It was only later, after going through a stage where the tomato was considered an aphrodisiac, that the tomato found its way to the table, especially in Naples and southern Italy. From what I have found, the first printed recipe with tomatoes appears in 1692. If lasagna as we know it today includes tomatoes, then it would not have been known in its current form until around 1700. My guess is that lasagna as we know it today may not have ancient roots, but may very well be a dish that was reinvented at a much later date.

So what about lasagna as we know it today? Some of the earliest references seem to date from the 17th century. One of the most interesting sites I’ve found claims that traditional lasagna is a peasant dish made from the most basic pork products. For many, the main source of meat was pork. The pig would be slaughtered in winter. The best shares would go to the “boss”, the owner. The peasants would be left with the offal, entrails and other portions of fragments. From the leftovers that had measurable meat, the peasants made sausages. From the bone portions they created the base of the tomato sauce (what we called the sauce).

My research on lasagna has taken me in many directions. I even went back to my cookbook library to re-examine my 1988 pre-celebrity chef Giulio Bugialli “On Pasta”. It seems that lasagna takes a different form not only in the different provinces of Italy but in the diversity of each household. Some lasagnas are made with meat, others with green vegetables such as artichokes or endives. Some people, like my relatives, add hard-boiled eggs and peas; Others don’t. Ultimately, what goes between the layers of pasta is as variable as the things you can find to put between them. Yes, what we know in America has cousins ​​in Italy. Nothing like strips of pasta intertwined with delicious ricotta and meat sauce. But there are also vegetarian-based lasagna, such as a wonderful artichoke lasagna.

The recipe I finally settled on is a compromise between my family’s traditions, the wisdom of Bugialli, and countless sites on Google. In recognition of what seems to be one of the fundamental elements of lasagna, I used ground pork and pork sausage as the meat base. For the cheeses, I selected those found in Campania: ricotta, percorino romano and scarmorzza. Scamorzza is a solid cheese found in southern Italy. Lasagna is not a simple recipe. You can’t do it as a 30 minute meal. It takes time, time and time. Making a recipe like this shows why lasagna was just a holiday dish.

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