Lasagna has an interesting provenience: originally, it referred to a molded casserole
of crepes with ravioli meat and green peas in a cheesy cream sauce, given a final round in the oven in a special, handled, clay pot. Once cooked through, for a second time, it was unmolded onto a platter.
For some reason, the Greeks invading Sicily at the time thought this hilarious, especially the handles on the pot, which reminded them of a pot used to service the other end of the digestive tract
, which they called lasagnum. Sicilians, who either didn't know or care, called it lasagne.
Fast forward to the Age of Discovery. Tomatoes
begin to spice up meat sauces. Then there's more tomato than sauce. The Arabs, who also had their eye on Sicily
, had twigged them to the notion of using noodles instead of pancakes (Atkins dieters of a certain age think of all pasta as a kind of pancake). The cream sauce stayed, as béchamel, up until recently, as a cheese layer.
For those who are in the know, a lasagna is less a pasta dish, but a wet pizza. That is, all the normal pizza
toppings apply, but in thin layers, between sauce and cheese and pasta. It's a festival dish, which means that you can use anything and everything in the sauce or topping. Which brings to mind a story.
One of the food writers for the New York Times
lived (and possibly still does) in lower Manhattan
. It was her habit, one fine September day
, to go for a jog, pick up a few days groceries, and go home first thing in the morning.
Shall we say that by mid-morning, her life had changed. Sympathetic firemen told her the bad news: she was safer in her apartment than to try to travel, there was wreckage, and who knows what. There was electricity, gas, and water, but who knows how long. Just stay where you are, we'll give you an all clear.
Legend has it that she spent the day making lasagna, in fact a recipe very much like this. When they finally broke her free, she served them all:
Servings: Serves 9
* 1 pound box lasagna noodles
* 6 cups sauce
* 24 ounces low-fat ricotta
* 32 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
* 1/2 cup chopped herbs (basil
, and/or thyme
* 2 eggplants , cut into circular slices 1/4–1/8-inch thick
* 6 to 8 zucchini , cut lengthwise into slices 1/4–1/8-inch thick
* 5 to 6 portobello
mushrooms , thinly sliced OR
* 1 package pre sliced white mushrooms (same thing)
* 2 red onions , thinly sliced
* 4 tablespoons olive oil
* 4 cloves garlic
* 3/4 cup chopped onions
* 2 cans (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
* 1/3 cup chopped basil
* ¼ cup sliced ripe olives
* 2 T. capers
* 1 T, or as desired, pine nuts OR walnuts, finely chopped
Sauté or oven-roast the vegetables until they are cooked through. Set aside.
To make the sauce, begin by heating the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and stir until golden brown. Add the garlic and other ingredients and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in additional fresh basil and add salt and pepper to taste, then simmer for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°. In the bottom of a 16" x 12" pan (a disposable pan is best), place a layer of dry noodles. On top of that, add about 1/3 of the sauce, about 1/2 of the ricotta cheese, and about 1/3 of the mozzarella
cheese. Sprinkle herbs, olives, capers and nuts over the top, and add a layer of vegetables. Repeat the process. Finish with a layer of noodles, then top with tomato sauce and a thick layer of mozzarella cheese.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap, then wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a knife pokes easily through the lasagna. Remove the plastic and foil and bake at 450° for 10 minutes, or until the top is browned.
Remove lasagna from the oven and let sit for 20 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil leaves or other fresh herbs.
(You can double the recipe to make 2 lasagnas and freeze an uncooked one. Bake the frozen lasagna for 50 minutes instead of 35.)
Sharp-eyed cooks will recognize the sauce as a kind of puttanesca, minus the red pepper.