I have always been fascinated with food history and learning how the foods we love to eat and prepare for our family and friends have evolved. Lasagna has been changing and evolving for centuries.
Like most of you, I thought lasagna had Italian origins, but I learned it can be traced back to Ancient Greece. The word lasagna is a derivative of the Greek word “laganon”, the first recorded pasta. Laganon were flat sheets of pasta dough. The Greeks cut them into strips and layered them with sauce. The Ancient Romans also ate a similar dish which they called “lasanum”; however, lasanum is Latin for container or pot. The Romans cooked their pasta in this pot; and, eventually, the recipe evolved, and the name “lasanum” stuck.
What we know as the Italian version of lasagna originated in Naples during the Middle Ages. Food historians found the first recorded recipe for layers of pasta in a 14th century cookbook; however, the recipe did not contain tomatoes. It wasn’t until the 1880s that Italians added tomato sauce to lasagna. Cooks continued to add their personal touch to this dish until it evolved into the traditional lasagna of Naples called “Lasagna di Carnevale”, which included sausage, fried meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, and ricotta or mozzarella cheese.
Turning, turning, turning through the years, yes, lasagna keeps on changing. Now we are making it with anything we can imagine from Artichokes to Zucchini. Following is my version. I like using Italian sausage rather than ground beef. I think it is more flavorful. If my children make lasagna, they use ground chicken or turkey and whole wheat noodles. They also like adding veggies like spinach, roasted red peppers, zucchini, or eggplant.
Lasagna Serves 8 to 10
For the meat sauce:
2 pounds Italian sausage 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 tablespoon dried basil 1 ½ teaspoons salt 1 can (16-ounces) peeled tomatoes, chopped 2 cans (6-ounces) tomato paste In a large heavy skillet, brown Italian sausage slowly, crumbling it with a fork until it is the size of peas. Spoon off excess fat. Add garlic, basil, salt, tomatoes, and tomato paste and mix thoroughly. Simmer uncovered 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. For the pasta: 10 ounces lasagna noodles, cooked al dente and drained Cook lasagna al dente according to package directions. Stir frequently to prevent noodles from sticking together.
For the ricotta mixture: 2 eggs 3 cups fresh ricotta or cream-style cottage cheese ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon large grind black pepper. In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Add ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, parsley, salt, and pepper and blend thoroughly. 1 pound mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a 13 X 9 X 2-inch baking dish, layer half the noodles. Spread half the ricotta mixture on top of noodles, cover with half the mozzarella cheese slices, and top with half the meat sauce. Repeat the layers. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes and cover with aluminum foil. Bake another 15 minutes, or until bubbly. (If assembled early and refrigerated, bake 45 minutes at 375 degrees F.) Let lasagna rest 10 minutes before serving.
Cooking tip: Covering lasagna with aluminum foil halfway through the cooking time will keep it from being dry. Handling cooked lasagna noodles can be challenging. Spray a cooking sheet with cooking spray and lay the lasagna noodles flat on the sheet until you are ready to assemble your lasagna.
Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.
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