Lasagne and its ancient origins

Some of Italy’s most iconic dishes can attribute their origins to Ancient Greek cuisine. I have previously mentioned that the ancient Greeks made a cake called plakous, which may have been the forefather to pizza. I’m starting to sound like the father in “A Big Fat Greek Wedding” here, but the word Lasagne comes from the Greek word “laganon,“ meaning a wide flat sheet of pasta cut into strips.

It is important to remember that the Greek’s settled in Southern Italy around the 8th Century BC, and their influence of Greek culture spread with the conquest by the Romans of the region in the 2nd and 1st Centuries BC. In Roman cookery, the earliest existence of pasta was known as “lagane,” referring to sheets of fried flat dough, similar to laganon. The Roman poet Horace in the 1st Century AD makes reference to lagane in his works. Horace was no stranger to Hellenic tradition and studied at The Academy, founded by Plato, in Athens.

Some have suggested that modern Lasagne’s origins are actually British and reference The Forme of Cury, published in 1390, authored by the Master Cooks of King Richard II, as evidence.

Loseyns. XX II. IX.

Take gode broth and do in an erthen pot, take flour of payndemayn and make therof past with water. and make therof thynne foyles as paper with a roller, drye it harde and seeth it in broth take Chese ruayn grated and lay it in disshes with powdour douce. and lay theron loseyns isode as hoole as thou mizt. and above powdour and chese, and so twyse or thryse, & serue it forth.

However, this recipe can be attributed to an earlier 14th Century (ca. 1304-1314) cookbook Liber de Coquina penned by a Napolise author. Liber de Coquina describes a recipe for lagane whereby squares of pasta are boiled and layered with grated cheese and spices, including cardamom, nutmeg, pepper, and cinnamon.

Lasagne Alla Bolognese that we are familiar with today is traditionally made with pasta made with flour, eggs, and spinach, with a ragù sauce, béchamel, and cheese. It is a dish that started to appear in eateries in the Bologna region in the early 1800s.

While I do not use spinach pasta, I like to add a layer of blanched silverbeet or spinach to my Lasagna. What I think is really great about Lasagne is that I can portion out and freeze any leftovers for a quick and easy microwave dinner.

Pasta Dough

Ingredients
  • 140g ‘00’ Flour
  • 140g Semolina Flour
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tsp Salt
Method

1. Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl.

2. Make well in flour and add 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yokes.

3. Combine mixture with a dough hook.

4. Turn mixture out onto a flat surface and knead until the dough has a smooth and elastic texture, similar to Play-Doh.

5. Cover dough in cling wrap and allow to rest for an hour.

6. Portion out dough, and roll out thin enough to feed through widest setting of the pasta roller. Laminate the pasta and fold four times on widest setting

7. Reduce roller width and continue to laminate until desired thickness. For Lasagne the final setting I use is ‘3’

Béchamel Sauce

Ingredients
  • 100g Butter
  • 110g Flour
  • 1lt Milk
  • ½ Onion
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
Method

1. Melt butter in saucepan one medium heat until foaming. Add flour, white pepper and salt and cook stirring for 1 to 2 minutes to create a roux.

2. Add milk and onion to saucepan and bring to a simmer.

3. Remove onion from milk and slowly add to roux, whisking until the mixture is smooth.

4. Return to heat, stir with wooden spoon until sauce thickens.

For Lasagne, once sauce thickens add 250g of grated mozzarella, and stir through until cheese has melted.

Lasagne

Assembly

1. In lasagne dish add thin layer of Bolognese Sauce.

2. Cover with a layer of pasta sheets, add thin layer of Bolognese Sauce (recipe for Bolognese found in recipe section), drizzle Béchamel Sauce, and sprinkle grated mozzarella. Repeat for three layers.

3. On top of third layer, spread layer of blanched silverbeet or spinach and drizzle Béchamel Sauce and sprinkle grated mozzarella.

4. Add layer of pasta, coat with Béchamel Sauce and sprinkle grated mozzarella.

5. Bake in oven at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F) for about 25 minutes until golden and bubbling.

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