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Exploring Lasagne: Facts, Folklore, and Fun Recipes

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

exploring-lasagne

Allow Your Thoughts to Wander

Imagine sunshine yellow sheets of paper-thin pasta, richly hued and flavored with farm-fresh egg yolks. Next, there is a thick tomato sauce, simmered for hours with onion, garlic, and basil. The cheeses (ricotta and Parmesan) are salty, nutty, luxuriously rich and, with the heat of the oven they have become stretchy and molten and caramelized on the edges. The layers repeat over and over again.

This is the description of perfect lasagna, isn’t it? Worthy of praise, but who do we thank?

Did You Know That Lasagne Is Not Italian?

Lasagne is the meal made in America, born in Greece and refined by the British, but we consider it an Italian dish. Allow me to explain.

Long ago, in the years we number B.C., Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire, created a tool that could be used to cut a flour and water dough into strips. From those dough strips, the Greeks made laganon. Food historians believe this was a flatbread, and although it bears little resemblance to a pasta dish, it was a humble beginning.

As you know, all great things Greek were appropriated by the Romans when that empire had dominion over the planet. In the 1st century A.D., Cicero had his lagani. The Empire expanded its reach northward to what is now Great Britain. It was there that a cookbook was published, as early as 1390 that includes the first lasagne.

However, it took the Italians to perfect lasagne, and in 16th-century Italia, both savory and sweet lasagne dishes were popular.

Why Are There Two Spellings?

Lasagna? Lasagne? What’s the difference? Is there a difference? Is auto-correct or spell-check to blame? Actually both words are correct, but it depends on what you are talking about. Lasagna with an “a” at the end refers to the individual sheet of pasta. Lasagne with an “e” is the entire dish, the casserole, the big thing we love and adore. In the Italian language, feminine nouns ending with an “a” refer to the singular, those ending with an “e” refer to the plural.

Classic Meat Lasagne

Classic Meat Lasagne

Classic Meat Lasagne

Our first recipe is a tried-and-true dish by America's Test Kitchen. Use no-boil noodles, your favorite marinara sauce, and these easy instructions to make a large casserole that serves at least nine hungry people. Thanks to Nicole for sharing this classic meat lasagne recipe from her favorite cookbook.

Lazy Lasagne Casserole

Lazy Lasagne Casserole

Lazy Lasagne Casserole

I've heard so many people complain that they love lasagne, but it just takes too long to make. You have to boil the water, cook and drain the noodles, cook the meat, simmer the sauce, assemble all those layers in a baking dish—and meanwhile, your family is clamoring to be fed.

Michelle to the rescue. She's spent most of her adult life working with children (babysitting, daycare, elementary education) and now she has little ones of her own. She knows what kids like, and she shares her DIY ideas, kids crafts projects, and yummy recipes with us in her blog Crafty Morning. She makes an easy-peasy dish of lasagne by using frozen ravioli in place of layers of pasta sheets and ricotta cheese filling. Lazy lasagne can be ready in under one hour.

Spinach Lasagne Roll-Ups

Spinach Lasagne Roll-Ups

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Spinach Lasagne Roll-Ups

What I love about this version of lasagne is that it's a perfect freezer-food. After cooking the rolls can be lined up on a cookie sheet, frozen for a few hours (until solid), and then stored individually in freezer bags. I used to make these for my daughter when she was going to college and for my father- and mother-in-law when they were too old to do their own cooking, but still wanted to live in their own home.

This vegetarian recipe for spinach lasagne roll-ups takes about 1 1/2 hours from start to finish, but it makes eight servings.

Three-Cheese Pesto Lasagne

Three-Cheese Pesto Lasagne

Three-Cheese Lasagne

I love pesto for so many reasons—it's full of bold flavors, rich with antioxidants, and it doesn't hurt that you can make it with just about any type of herb or dark green you happen to have on hand.

This three-cheese lasagne is chock full of a homemade pesto you can whip together with your food processor. And then it gets even better. Elizabeth layers in spinach and kale along with mushrooms to create a luxurious vegetarian lasagne. Yes, it takes a little more time than some other recipes, but it's time well-spent.

Roasted Butternut Squash Spinach Lasagne

Roasted Butternut Squash Spinach Lasagne

Roasted Butternut Squash Spinach Lasagne

This butternut squash lasagne does take a bit of time from start to finish, but it can easily be made in stages. The butternut squash can be prepared, roasted, and pureed one day and the lasagne assembled on the next day. I love the contrast of sweet squash with savory spinach and garlic.

If you are a blue cheese lover, I might suggest crumbling some Gorgonzola on top just before serving.

Salmon Lasagne

Salmon Lasagne

Salmon Lasagne

Be forewarned that if you create this dish the food police might come knocking on your door. This dictum comes from Italy, but it's not mere food snobbery. According to Epicurious:

"Not only do Italy’s cheese-making regions and its seafood regions tend to be different places, but both ingredients keep poorly. Prior to refrigerated transport, carrying your pesce from Puglia to Piedmont probably would have resulted in some pretty stinky swordfish. Italy’s oily fish—like sardines and mackerel—don’t really call out for the added fats of cheese, and many of the leaner fish—say, flounder or sole—tend to be delicate in texture and flavor, responding better to brief encounters with oil (or yes, sometimes butter) than the heft and complex flavor of cheese."

So there are chefs who now totally denounce the marriage of fish and fromage, and (like the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys) they probably don't know why.

But, I'm not one of those. Lobster Thermador, Crab Mac and Cheese, New Jersey clam pizza—all of those are a seafood-cheese combo, and they're amazingly good! This salmon lasagne is creamy and delicate. If you don't like asparagus, you can substitute broccoli, spinach, or mushrooms.

Chicken Lasagne

Chicken Lasagne

Chicken Lasagne

This is a perfect recipe for using up leftover rotisserie chicken (or leftover Thanksgiving turkey). And, with the creamy sauce and cheese, you might be able to entice your kids to eat their veggies. Holly uses carrots and broccoli, but you could substitute corn and red bell pepper, peas and pearl onions, even black olives and diced tomatoes. You can customize your chicken lasagne to use whatever ingredients you have on hand.

Vegan Lasagne

Vegan Lasagne

Vegan Lasagne

Look at that photo above—can you believe that you're looking at a meatless and cheeseless lasagne? Sina has created a rich Bolognese sauce packed with protein that will please even the most dedicated meat-lovers in your family. This vegan lasagne can be ready in an hour (of which 35 minutes is baking time).

Trivia

  • July 29 is National Lasagne Day
  • The heaviest lasagna ever created was made in 2012 to honor the Italian soccer team’s participation in the Euro Cup. It weighed in at 5.29 tons. It took 10 hours to bake and served 10,000.

Sources

© 2020 Linda Lum

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