Lasagne are the quintessence of Italian cuisine. Let's start a culinary journey to discover history and curiosities of this popular Sunday dish.

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Her majesty the lasagna.

The queen of all Sunday lunches.

Lasagna is an institution, a symbol of the richness and variety of Italian cuisine.

The Bolognese one, famous all over the world, is a triumph of layers of egg pasta, meat sauce, béchamel and parmesan.

The Neapolitan one boasts meatballs, mozzarella and hard-boiled eggs. The Venetian lasagna surprises with radicchio while the Sicilian one with peas and ham.

A lasagna for every palate.

We have prepared for you an article dedicated to this uber-Italian dish, combining historical notes and recipes.

We will discover the different regional variations and we'll see that the birth of lasagna has blurred edges: the most probable hypothesis sees its birth in Naples in the Middle Ages and the definitive affirmation in Bologna in the last two centuries.

Happy reading then, and buon appetito!

History of lasagne

history of lasagne

The epic journey of the lasagna started in the shape of a sort of baked bread filled with meat to the layered masterpiece delighting our Sunday lunches.

It's hard to trace the official paternity of this dish: it's too widespread and has too many variations.

In fact, the ancient Romans already cooked something similar to today's lasagna and called it "laganum" (taken from the Greeks who called it "laganon"): the early version was made by rectangular sheets of wheat flour filled with meat. We know this thanks to De re coquinaria, a culinary document that has enlightened us on Rome's food past.

Cheese peeps out in the recipe towards the 14th century in the codification of a Neapolitan recipe book of the Angevin Court (the Liber de Coquina), while the tomato appears since 1881. The presence of stringy cheeses in southern and central Italy suggests that the idea of ​​filling the sheets - perhaps with mozzarella - came from this area.

We hear about the amazing idea of ​​layered lasagna in a book from 1863 by the Emilian statesman Francesco Zambrini, who studies medieval cuisine: we are not too far from the current lasagna!

Something is still missing: the sheet of pasta mixed with spinach with its classic green colour: Paolo Monelli talks about it in 1935 in his "The wandering glutton" and that is enough to fix Bolognese lasagna in the Italian collective memory.

Recipes and variations of lasagne

Lasagna spinach

A variation of the classical lasagna, here with spinaches.

The three main actors in the lasagna bolognese recipe are ragù, béchamel and egg pasta sheets.

You know, a good chef needs to also please the eye. So in the original recipe the sheets of egg pasta with their classic golden colour are alternated with the green ones, where the sheet is mixed with spinach.

The rich, slow-cooked ragù sauce is the actual heart of the recipe: tradition has it that both minced beef and pork are used, the latter in the form of pancetta. The tomato sauce is cooked for a long time in order to get a thick sauce.

The flavours are held together by the bechamel sauce - very easy to make at home - with the addition of nutmeg, granting overall warmth and complexity to the sauce.

The succulent parmesan crust covering the last layer is really the icing on the cake.

In Italy there are many variations of the Bolognese lasagna recipe: here’s a few.

The Neapolitan version of the lasagna was probably born in the royal court and is a real feast of flavours. In this variant, local chefs don’t use egg pasta; they also add the famous dairy products from Campania such as mozzarella, ricotta and provola cheese. But that’s not all! Among the sheets you can find hard-boiled eggs and delicious meatballs

Central Italy lives its own lasagna dream.

In the Marche region you can taste vincisgrassi, very similar to their bolognese brother, but also boosting chicken giblets and spices. Gourmets also add truffles for an even stronger flavour.

Abruzzo also has its own variation called sagnitelle, which does not include egg pasta (just regular pasta made only of flour and water) and often does not have béchamel as a binding, creamy agent.

Finally, in Sicily the local lasagna is also stuffed with peas and ham, with ricotta replacing the béchamel, while in Veneto it’s common the use of the bitter red radicchio from Treviso to replace the ragù sauce.

Where to eat the best lasagne

The best place to eat lasagna is... at an Italian grandmother's or mother's house.

It may be the knowledge handed down from generation to generation, the personal choice of ingredients and the small tricks of home cooking... but enjoying a lasagna cooked at home by expert hands is an inimitable experience.

If you are trying to live the same experience by eating out, we recommend to look for a trattoria or restaurant serving strictly traditional, local food.

Maybe ask your local friends, they will certainly have a trusted restaurant.

In Bologna, try to book a table at traditional restaurants such as "Diana" (which has been serving delicacies since 1909) or the genuine "Trattoria Anna Maria".

To enjoy a carnival lasagna in Naples, try "Mimì alla Ferrovia" instead, or one the many city taverns especially during the carnival period.

One thing is certain: in Italian trattorias you will not come across the green salad served with - or even on top - of your lasagna.

The recipe of the Lasagna Bolognese

Lasagna bolognese

Here is the "official" recipe for traditional Lasagna alla Bolognese for 4 people.

For the béchamel (also called "white sauce"):

- Flour 00 (80g)

- Butter (60g)

 - Whole milk (1 litre)

- Salt and nutmeg to taste

For the ragù:

- Minced beef (400g)

- Pancetta (around 100g)

- Celery, onion and carrot for the sauté

- Sieved tomato passata (750g)

- Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper

- Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

If you don’t want to prepare the lasagna sheets at home, just buy at least a pack of egg lasagna sheets weighing at least 400g.

The recipe is pretty simple.

For the béchamel, start by preparing the roux: melt the butter over low heat and add the flour, stirring rapidly, until you obtain a “consistent” mixture with no lumps. At this point, just add the cold milk and mix until you get a thick mixture, without letting it boil.

For the final touch, just add salt and nutmeg to taste and… voilà, the bechamel is ready.

The preparation of the ragù takes a bit longer.

Start by frying the carrots, celery and onion cut into small pieces in the oil. When the soffritto is ready, add the minced meat and pancetta and cook for at least 15 minutes.

Add the tomato passata and cook for at least 45 minutes over medium heat, until the desired density is reached. Salt and pepper to taste.

At this point you need to put together your masterpiece.

Take a baking dish and start spreading a layer of béchamel, followed by a layer of ragù and one of pasta sheets.

Once you have finished alternating the layers, cover everything with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan, which will crunch marvellously in the oven.

Put the dish in the oven and cook for at least 30 minutes at about 180°C.

Take out the dish and leave to cool for a few minutes, garnish your lasagna with a few basil leaves and serve: buon appetito!

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