pasta drying in the street of Naples, ca. 1897

Even historic foodies love the convenience of “heat and eat” foods after a hard day at work, except in my case the “heat and eat” has been lovingly made by me and frozen in anticipation of a cozy evening when there just isn’t time to cook from scratch.  One or two Saturdays a month I cook all day, we have one dish for dinner, and freeze the remainder.  Yesterday it was lasagna – a combination of the traditional meat sauce and veggie lasagna.  Heavenly!

Traditional noodles were layered with meat, veggies, tons of cheese, and from-scratch sauce made from Italian tomatoes.  The sauce was scented with fresh herbs from right outside my kitchen door.

I sautéed slices of eggplant – skin on.  I love the color it adds not to mention the chewy texture the peel adds.  I sliced button mushrooms and rough-chopped portabellas and sautéed those in olive oil with sea salt and white pepper.  I did the same with slices of zucchini. 

For the meat I used a combination of ground chuck and alligator sausage left from last week’s kitchen adventure.

By combining the meats and vegetables, each bite of the lasagna has a different taste and texture.  The clean fresh taste of the zucchini contrasts with the earthy goodness of the portabellas, and the eggplant either provides a chewy texture in bites with the peel or a creaminess that is divine. 

One dish was dinner last night and there are three more safely tucked away in the freezer.  All we need do is thaw them, allow them to come to room temperature for a half hour or so, and then bake at 350 to 375 for about an hour and viola!  – freshly baked lasagna without the hours of prep making sauce, slicing and sautéing vegetables, and boiling noodles. 

Oh – since this is a blog about historic foods, I assure you, lasagna has been around well long enough to be historic by anyone’s definition.  There are three theories as to how it came about – one has to do with the pot it was cooked in rather than the food prepared in it, one (and this is my choice) is that the dish we enjoy today evolved from one penned in the 14th century entitled Loseyn in The Forme of Cury

“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.”

By way of explanation – payn (however you spell it) referred to bread, in this case good bread.  To seethe is to boil or simmer.  Lozen referred to a pasta of some sort.  Powdour douce was a spice mixture – the exact ingredients and amounts varied from cook to cook.  The book title simply refers to prepared (cooked) food – not something laden with curry powder. 

What we have is a pasta simmered in good broth and layered with spice and cheese, but by 1700 the dish contained tomatoes much as it does today.  The Italians are adept at coaxing unbelievable flavor from basic ingredients, but most do agree the name is Greek in origin – remember that cook pot theory.