Saturday, July 25, 2015

Food Watch: How will you be celebrating National Lasagna Day (coming up Wednesday)?


by Ken

It's so hard keeping track of all these important holidays! At least we've got some advance notice for this biggie. Once I was alerted to the momentous event, I turned up an entry on a slightly odd nevertheless clearly caring site called Altius Directory, which I didn't know anything about (and apparently wasn't curious enough to explore further).

It's safe to say, though, that the people at Altius, or at any rate somebody at Altius, have/has lasagna in their (his/her) heart, and that lasagna-heartnedness will take us a long way in our anticipation of Wednesday's festivities. Starting with a capsule description of what the stuff is:
Lasagna is wide and flat pasta often with wavy corners. It is usually served in alternating layers having cheese, sauce and generally other ingredients like meat sauce, or other pieces of vegetable. It is generally the central cuisine of Italy with several regional variations. In few areas, specifically in the southern provinces of Italy, the sauce is mostly a simple tomato sauce and ragu, whereas in other parts, Northern Italy, a Béchamel sauce is more popular. Lasagna is a famous dish in other parts of the globe, from Europe to the Americas.
Then there's the obvious question: So where did the stuff come from?

There are three myths on the origin of lasagna, two of which manifest it as an ancient Greek dish. The most popular story is that lasagna originated in Greek which says that it is a flat sheet of pasta dough divided into strips. The word lasagna is still facilitated in Greek that refers to flat thin unleavened bread.

The second theory says that the term lasagna originated from the Greek lasagna that means "trivet or stand for a pot", or "chamber pot". The Romans adapted the word as "lasanum", that means "cooking pot" in Latin. The Italians use this word to refer to the pot in which lasagna is prepared. After some time, the name of the food also adapted the name of the serving dish.

According to the third theory the term is taken from the 14th century English recipe "Loseyn". This believe came into existence due to the similarities in both the process described in preparing the dish and the two terms.


Here I'm afraid the Altius entry lets us down a little. It points out, utterly correctly, that not only is it "a great effort" to "tak[e] the time out to cook lasagna," but that at the particular time of year when National Lasagna Day falls, "running the oven for an hour in the scorching heat is not that much appealing." True that! The entry goes on to suggest that "you can visit a local Italian eatery to relish all of the lasagna you want, without actually cooking it yourself," noting further that many Italian ("or even other") restaurants offer discounted or even free servings of lasagna on the occasion of National Lasagna Day. However, I'm afraid the entry has more faith in restaurant lasagna than I do.

Undoubtedly there are restaurants that serve decent lasagna, but I would be reluctant to entry my National Lasagna Day celebration to one of them without a reliable recommendation. And the people most likely to be qualified to appreciate a recommendable version are people who normally get their lasagna from an authentic Italian mother or grandmother. So really, if you don't have access to one of them, you're very likely screwed.

In my case, back in the day a Jewish grandmother was an altogether satisfactory substitute. Mine learned her lasagna basics relatively late in life from the Italian neighbors across the road from her summer home. From those basics she applied her (excellent) kitchen instincts, and the results were simply lovely. When she could be persuaded to do it, or more likely when she herself felt an itch to do it, she always used the bottom half of her regular old-fashioned oval roaster, producing a giant oval's worth of the stuff to a depth of about six inches. The result could feed even our band of hungry eaters for a couple of weeks, the best part being that each time the stuff was reheated, it got better.

As I say, though, it usually took persuasion, for two reasons that I recall. First, that it was "so much potchke," which I'm sure it was. And second, that with "all those cheeses," it was "so expensive." I'm almost relieved that she's not around now to price out her recipe. In our day and age, making a tub of lasagna in the quantity my grandmother did might require a bank loan.


As it happens, just recently I had a link for something called skillet lasagna, which roused my curiosity enough for a click-through, and I have to say, it looked kind of interesting. It's made possible, of course, by the advent of "no boil" lasagna noodles.

As I discovered when I tried to re-find the link I'd been looking at, there's now skillet lasagna all over the Net. The version pictured above isn't the one I was looking for. It's from Food Network, and it looks kind of gross, and looking through the recipe doesn't make me want to make it the way the other recipe kind of did. But you could try it. If you do, let the rest of us know how it turned out.



At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forget skillet lasagna. It really should be made in a deep, straight-sided pan. I learned from my mother's Italian friend. Her sauce (tomato "gravy") was enriched to a decadent degree with sliced italian sausages and homemade meatballs. Your grandma was right: it's very expensive to make a large lasagna and it's a lot of potchke. But utterly worth it. Leftovers are even better because the layers have a chance to meld and hold their shape.

May I suggest a few lasagna variations: Lidia Bastianich has a recipe for layering eggplant, mozzarella, sauce and risotto rice instead of noodles. I substitute short-grain brown rice and really lay on the eggplant and cheese. It's a new fave in my house.

The other variation takes layers of no-bake noodles, italian turkey sausage cooked and crumbled with sautéed onions, mozzarella and grated cheese, and copious amounts of homemade bechamel sauce instead of ricotta. It is delicious.

In fact, you've inspired me. I happen to have a large container of ricotta and a few packages of mozz in the fridge. Tomorrow: lasagna for dinner!

At 4:21 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Now that's what I call getting into the spirit of things! Lots of good thoughts to share there! Thanks!



Post a Comment

<< Home