This, my friends, is what food blogging is all about. The ability to look at a dish and admire it for simply being what it is. And what this is is pasta sheets layered in sauce, filling, and mushrooms.
I chose lasagna as my first pasta dish because it was likely the first pasta dish created. At its essence, lasagna is a flat bread. This becomes glaringly apparent if you use home made pasta rather than the store bought, as any noodles not covered in sauce or toppings and is exposed to the over air, will have the texture and characteristics of a cracker. Those store bought pasta strips simply do not attain that level of crunchy goodness.
Let’s talk about the noodles first, before talking about the dish itself. According to Alan Davidson in his book Oxford Companion of Food, these noodles have been around since before the New Testament. This makes it one of the oldest processed foods in Europe that are still around today. However, there is some question as whether it was a peasant dish, or a dish of the wealthy. As it does require an oven, my bet is that the houses of the wealthy made the noodles far more often than the poor. But as the noodles did have a shelf life, they may have ended up as a commodity sold at market and thus would not have been unheard of to the lower classes.
There has been a recent controversy that the British, and NOT the Italians came up for the concept recipe of lasanga as evidenced by its inclusion in a cookbook dated 1390, but this has proven demonstrably false, as there is plenty of evidence that those in the Italian regions were well acquainted with the pasta.
Many people will say that the word lasagna derives from the latin word lasanum meaning ‘chamber pot’, but I’m not convinced that this is the case. I’m far more willing to believe that it actually comes from the Greek word for a flat cake called laganon. The later seems more logical to me, and the former seems more like the twenty-first century definition being foisted upon a Roman-era pronunciation of an object that has little to do with a product made from flour and eggs.
So what would have been in those dishes? Well, not tomatoes, as they didn’t arrive until the Europeans decided to head to the New World. But meats and cheeses would have been common, as would have honey, rosewater and nuts. The later would have been a treat quite similar to the baklava as we know it today.
As this dish has been around for a millennium or two, there are hundreds of ways in which it has been prepared. What this means for home cooks is that this dish opens itself to both interpretation as well as innovation. The above picture was made with the following:
- Filling made from 1 cup ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup parmesan, 1/4 cup asagio, and 1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley.
- Meat sauce made with 1 lb Italian sausage, 28 oz of diced tomatoes, 4 oz tomato, and 1 tsp of fresh oregano
- sliced portabello mushooms
- Chunks of mozzarella cheese
Then it was simply a matter layering in a 9″x 9″ glass dish.
Layer one – Noodles, filling, meat sauce.
Layer two – Noodles, mushrooms, meat sauce.
Layer three – Noodles, filling, meat sauce.
Layer four – Noodles, meat sauce, chunks of mozzarella cheese.
I put it in the over at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes. After removing it from the oven, I let it set for seven minutes before cutting into it. The result? Pure lasagna bliss.
But the above isn’t the way to make this dish. Explore, try something different, have fun!