Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The real lasagne

The real lasagne
It’s one of the world’s most popular pasta dishes, not to mention cartoon cat Garfield’s favourite. But while everyone thinks they’ve had a great lasagne, unless you’ve tried one made in Italy the traditional way, chances are you only know half the story.

Harking back to Roman times, lasagne is the oldest form of pasta (after all, rolled sheets are the simplest shape of all). It’s usually created by alternating layers of pasta and sauce and baking in a ceramic pot, a trick the Romans may have picked up from the Greeks – the Greek word ‘lasagnum’ meaning dish or bowl. The most common sauces used are ragù and béchamel, with lashes of parmesan cheese liberally layered among them. The pasta dough is traditionally made with semolina in southern Italy and flour and eggs in the north.

But here’s where things get interesting. The lasagne you know and love probably has a rich tomato taste in the sauce. Trouble is, tomatoes were only brought to Europe around the early 16th Century, which means the lasagne you enjoy so much probably bears little resemblance to the original way the Italians enjoyed it.