What is lasagne?
Lasagne is a classic Italian al forno dish that generally consists of alternating layers of pasta sheets and various fillings, including - though not exclusively - ragù, besciamella and cheese, such as mozzarella, ricotta or Parmesan. Typically, this assembled dish is then baked in an oven until piping hot and all the cheese has melted.
Beloved worldwide, lasagne is especially popular in the US, where they celebrate national Lasagne day on the 29th July.
What does lasagne al forno mean?
Lasagne is pronounced luh-ZAHN-yuh, though the ‘g’ isn’t technically silent. The word ‘Lasagne’ stems from the Latin ‘lasanum’, meaning ‘cooking pot’ or ‘chamber pot’, which we imagine could lead to the most unfortunate of misunderstandings…
‘Al forno’ simply means baked in an oven. It’s no surprise this hearty dish is named after its preparation method - anyone who has made fresh lasagne from scratch will agree it is a labour intensive process, but one that is wholly worth the effort!
What is the difference between lasagne and lasagna?
Though this is a linguistic difference that confuses many, the main difference between lasagne and lasagna is simply a matter of plural - lasagne is the plural form of ‘lasagna’, which represents a singular sheet of pasta.
History of lasagne
Like many classic Italian recipes, lasagne’s true history is disputed. That being said, it is generally accepted that lasagne was created in Naples during the Middle Ages. The first recorded recipe for a dish that resembles lasagne was noted in the early 14th-century text Liber de Coquina, meaning The Book of Cookery. However, the recipe described bears little resemblance to the lasagne we enjoy today, instead consisting of a fermented dough, flattened into thin sheets and boiled. This dough was then topped with cheese and various spices, before being consumed with the aid of a pointed stick. Please note here, this is not a utensil we’d advise using to eat modern lasagne.
Types of lasagne
When you think of lasagne, you probably think of the famous Lasagne alla Bolognese with bolognese ragù and bechamel sauce. However, lasagne is not strictly composed of these ingredients - there is a wealth of delicious lasagne recipes to try. From pesto lasagne to pumpkin, courgette or aubergine lasagne. In Sicily, parmigiana omits fresh pasta for thinly sliced layers of aubergine.
A classic recipe in Naples, lasagne di carnevale, consists of layers of sausage, meatballs, diced hard boiled eggs, fresh ricotta and mozzarella, scattered between fresh lasagne and Neapolitan ragù. Lasagne verde is popular in Emilia-Romagna. In this recipe, layers of lasagne are naturally dyed green with spinach or other leafy vegetables.
How do I make ‘authentic’ lasagne?
One of the biggest differences between the lasagne we all know and a true Italian lasagne is, believe it or not, the consistency. Renowned Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli describes Italian lasagne as ‘sturdy’ and ‘quite dry’. While this may not sound like the most appetising of meals, the alternative suggests a gloopy, mushy, sub-par lasagne recipe. This is the type of lasagne that Locatelli decries as "not lasagne but a version of shepherd’s pie, only made with pasta instead of potato."
If you’re looking for true authenticity, we strongly recommend you use fresh pasta. Why not use this as an opportunity to try making your own lasagne sheets at home? It’s much easier than you’d expect, see for yourself by reading our guide to making lasagne sheets. Or watch the video below as Chef Roberta shows how to make lasagne sheets.
What is Besciamella?
Besciamella, otherwise known as bechamel sauce or white sauce, is a sauce traditionally made from a white roux (butter and flour) and milk. Looking for a simple besciamella recipe? See our straightforward recipe for bechamel sauce from scratch in our comprehensive recipe for lasagne.
Watch Roberta making a traditional béchamel sauce in our video guide:
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