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Some Lasagna Questions


tommy
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My most successful lasagna (or is it lasagne?) :huh: occurs when I don't boil the noodles and put about 1/4-inch thick layer of sauce in the pan before inserting the first layer of noodles.

The noodles absorb the sauce which gives the noodles added flavor, and you don't have a puddle of liquid on the plate.

Drink!

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth forgoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward. --John Mortimera

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  • 5 months later...

One thing I think it is important to keep in mind about lasagna is that "lasagna" does not mean "a baked layered dish in a vaguely Italian style." Lasagna is the word for a specific kind of noodle. I have eaten lasagna many times just boiled in water and sauced. What we think of as "lasagna" is actually "lasagna al forno." This means that baked dishes of layered eggplant or fried polenta or zucchini or whatever are not "lasagna" in any meaningful sense of the word.

Besides that, I prefer the classic fresh pasta/balsamella/ragu bolognese version, but others are good too. One of my favorites is vincigrassi from my Le Marche, where I have spent much of my time in Italy. It is essentially a lasagna al forno made with a chicken liver and gizzard ragu (I also like to include chicken hearts, etc.). Very tasty, but often a good idea to tell people what it is after they have already tried some. :wink:

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From the italian point of view, what slkinsey said is totally correct. Lasagne (we never use the singular!) are a type of noodle, which can also be served just boiled and sauced. For example, the traditional Genovese lasagne, called "Mandilli de saea" (silk handkerchiefs) for their thinness, are simply layered in the serving dish, brushed with pesto and sprinkled with grated parmesan before serving. Like in the above mentioned Mario Batali's recipe, Lasagne with pesto can also be mixed with bechamel and baked, but personally I'd avoid adding other ingredients like vegetables. As someone said, the more simple is the recipe, the more it's "italian" and not "italian-like!"

It's also right that we generally make our baked lasagne with bechamel, only seldom with other cheeses, never with ricotta. I like alot vegetable lasagne, but I make them "white". I mix bechamel with pureed mushrooms or artichokes or asparagus (I never use them together), then make layers of lasagne, bechamel and slices of the same vegetable I pureed in the bechamel. Another good option can be white lasagne (only bechamel and cheese) flavoured with white truffle paste (or REAL white truffles if you're rich :wink: )

BTW: why eggplant slices, baked with tomato, cheese and herbs, should be called "Lasagna"? They have already got a name - "Parmigiana di Melanzane" :smile:

Pongi

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I'd like to argue that the dish we Americans call "Lasagne" with it's red sauce, meat and ricotta IS a true "lasagne" dish. It may not be so in the world of Italian cuisine but it is in the world of Italian-American cuisine and should be recognized as such. Italian-American cuisine is not a "bastardization" of Italian cuisine but has become a genre unto itself (it also gave us pizza..where do I start building the shrine?).

Over time, the meaning of the word "Lasagne" has changed here in America and what once described the pasta used in the dish now represents the entire dish. Times change...words take on new meanings.

So I see nothing wrong with calling this glorious bubbling dish of layered flat pasta noddles, red/meat sauce and melted cheese "lasagne". Perhaps we can tag an "IA" in front of it to clarify which cuisine we're talking about so as not to offend anyone.

 

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Tim Oliver

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Toliver, I don't think anyone is saying that a lasagna noodle, meat, red sauce and ricotta baked dish would not be "lasagna al forno." Any time lasagna noodles are baked with something else in the oven, it is technically "lasagne al forno."

That said, the American version is just that: the American version and not one of the classic Italian versions. People differ as to their preferences for either one. One thing is quite clear, however: if it doesn't have lasagna noodles in it, it's not lasagne al forno.

Italian-American cuisine is not a "bastardization" of Italian cuisine but has become a genre unto itself (it also gave us pizza..where do I start building the shrine?).

I won't argue that Italian-American cooking has become a distinct genre of cooking, because I tend to agree. It is also interesting to read up on the history of restaurant culture in Italy and see how strongly it was influenced by the return of Italians who had spend time in the US. Actually, Italian culture in general was hugely changed when peasants saw that they didn't have to slave away in the fields for the rest of their lives and could seek a new way of life in the New World. That said, I take extreme exception with your suggestion that Italian-American cooking "gave us pizza." Indeed, I would question whether much of the pizza one finds in America is even very good.

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I have a lasagna cookbook at home. There's one version with brains. The best one I ever had was at a cooking class. It had a specialized name that I've helpfully forgotten. Something aristocratic. Veal and chicken livers and probably at least two other meats. Red sauce but unusually heavy on the cream. Bits of cinnamon sugar too. Not necessarily like a bestilla but somewhat. Very very rich. Kept the recipe. Will have to dig it up when it cools off.

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Back in the late 50s and early 60s my mother would make really good traditional "American" lasagne. Then she got into growing herbs long before it was cool to grow herbs. (She sent off for seeds for things we had never heard of.) Then one day she decided to make lasagne but use herbs from her herb garden. I remember that she read off the label what was in "Italian Seasoning" and proceded to go out and pick a bunch. I am sure that she had no clue as to how to adjust for fresh herbs versus dried stuff from the supermarket. I am sure that she was over-enthusiastic about how much she used. But, she was an amazing instinctive cook and that was the most amazing lasagne I have ever eaten. I remember it to this day.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Newbie here....great site. I'd like to make lasagna ahead of time and freeze. Is this recommended? If so, should the lasagna be cooked prior to freezing? What would this do to the texture. Thanks all!

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Newbie here....great site.  I'd like to make lasagna ahead of time and freeze.  Is this recommended?

Welcome to eGullet, boink!

I find that lasagne freezes so well, baked or unbaked, that it's always a good idea to make more than the family will eat at one sitting. As our family has been whittled down to two (ever weight-watchful) middle-agers, making some to freeze is easy.

Reading through this thread, I realize that I've never met lasagne I didn't like. I make the minimalist version myself, but if you wanna throw in ricotta, meatballs, artichoke hearts...you go! I'd love it.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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  • 11 months later...

I'm trying to duplicate lasagna the way we had it in Italy - the flavors were light and simple, and the noodles were so smooth and soft cutting into them was like cutting into custard. I'm not exaggerating about the custard part - and that's truly the most important thing I want to duplicate. I want to know - is it the thinness of the noodles? Should I be making my own, hankerchief-thin? Or should I concentrate on what's in the noodles - would they be more cream- or yolk-based? Or is it the cooking method? Is the custardy mouth-feel possible when using no-bake or store-bought noodles? Any advice appreciated, thanks.

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The no-boil pasta just won't give you the same flavor as fresh. Most Italians do use the no-boil type at home and I have had many very good pasta al forno prepared this way. Fresh lasagna pasta is just a classic egg/flour based pasta.

While the pasta is important: excellent bechamele, parmigano and ragu are equally important. The bechamele is what gives the rich creamy texture to pasta al forno.

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The lasagna we had in Rome was indeed lighter than most Italian-American recipes. The sauce was more like a sause than a stiff meat mixture. The particular one I remember best seemed to have been assembled individually in small dishes, then baked to order, rather than baked in a large pan and cut into portions. It was really so much better than the lasagna I make, that I haven't made one since. One of these days I'm going to try it like that. I don't recall a heavy ricotta layer, either, like most recipes call for. Mostly bechemel, thin sauce and parm with heavenly, thin pasta squares.

Stop Family Violence

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My favorite lasagna is made with multiple layers of fresh pasta sheets, bechamel sauce, and bolognese (cooked with milk and wine and very little tomato), layered in a pan and baked. No ricotta, no tomato sauce. It is smooth and creamy.

I bought the pasta at a local italian deli, ordered in advance before they cut it all up into shapes. Was able to fit 6 layers into the pan.

This may be what you're looking to duplicate. I got the rest of my recipe from Giada deLaurentiis, on FoodTV.com.

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I tend to find the sign of a good lasagne is the number of layers, and the amount of pasta. Too often you get too much sloppy filling loosley packed between only a couple of layers of pasta.

Not sure I agree with the softness of the pasta - it should be a little softer than how I like none baked pasta (Indeed it is pretty impossible for it not to be!), but it still needs some resilience.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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All dried lasagne noodles are no-boil. I never buy the more expensive so-called no-boil noodles, but use Barilla regular lasagne noodles, and assemble as usual.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, when Vegetarian Times did this as its cover story, I played around with the technique. In my opinion it does require some adaptation of recipes. It works best if you start with a wetter-than-average casserole, cook covered for awhile so the retained steam cooks the noodles, and then cook uncovered to release the steam and brown the top -- your overall cooking time will be a little longer. I think this works better than using no-boil noodles, which are pre-cooked and then dehydrated at the factory. The process seems to affect texture adversely. But skyflyer, I think almost undoubtedly the texture you're referring to comes from using fresh pasta sheets.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
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My favorite lasagna is made with multiple layers of fresh pasta sheets, bechamel sauce, and bolognese (cooked with milk and wine and very little tomato), layered in a pan and baked. No ricotta, no tomato sauce. It is smooth and creamy.

I bought the pasta at a local italian deli, ordered in advance before they cut it all up into shapes. Was able to fit 6 layers into the pan.

This may be what you're looking to duplicate. I got the rest of my recipe from Giada deLaurentiis, on FoodTV.com.

This is, of course, the real thing. I am sure there is pasta al forno from the south that includes ricotta, but they certainly don't use it in Emilia Romagna.

The incredients are bechamele (with a touch of nutmeg), lasagne pasta, parmigiano reggiano and bolognese ragu. That's it.

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All dried lasagne noodles are no-boil. I never buy the more expensive so-called no-boil noodles, but use Barilla regular lasagne noodles, and assemble as usual.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, when Vegetarian Times did this as its cover story, I played around with the technique. In my opinion it does require some adaptation of recipes. It works best if you start with a wetter-than-average casserole, cook covered for awhile so the retained steam cooks the noodles, and then cook uncovered to release the steam and brown the top -- your overall cooking time will be a little longer. I think this works better than using no-boil noodles, which are pre-cooked and then dehydrated at the factory. The process seems to affect texture adversely. But skyflyer, I think almost undoubtedly the texture you're referring to comes from using fresh pasta sheets.

There is a decided difference in flavor and texture between no-boil and normal dried lasagne pasta.

...also the Barilla is pretty lousy stuff and it is worse in the USA than in Italy where it is pretty bad. By the way, the Barilla no-boil is what you would probably be served in most Italian homes. If the rest of the ingredients are good enough it can be pretty good. However, fresh pasta makes this a COMPLETELY different dish.

There is hardly an easier pasta shape to make fresh than lasagne is there? Why not make it?

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Although is not "Lasagna" simply the pasta itself, rather then specifically the dish, so the pasta with any ingredients would still be lasagna.

But to get the soft texture, it if most likely a case of fresh pasta made with soft wheat flour and a relatively low amount egg, cooked slowly over a longish period.

Few people would call it "lasagne" here. It is normally referred to as "pasta al forno", which of course encompasses a wide range of possibilities. However, up here by the Alps, pasta al forno is what most people outside of Italy would call lasagne. Down south it has a whole new range of possibilities.

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Glad you brought this up, Skyflyer...  good advice to be had.  Now I'm hungry for this "real thing" version.  Craig, what wine would you suggest?

Well, assuming we are doing the Emila Romagna version, that's easy. Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio, Sangiovese Romagna is one of my favorite Italian wine bargains year after year. No oak, zesty acids and bright cherry fruit make it perfect for a rich pasta al forno.

...and yes I think you can find it in Florida as it is represented by a division of Southern Wines and Spirits.

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