Lasagne is one of those truly famous Italian dishes that is so ubiquitous, yet not many people know the origins of the dish.
It is, in fact, one of the oldest dishes around with Italian origin, and even in many non-Italian languages, it’s recognised as a dish made of flat noodles with various layers of sauce and other ingredients.
Lasagne (singular: ‘lasagna’ indicating the actual flat noodle) apparently has its origins in Naples, specifically the town Campania. The recipe we know and love today came from the Middle Ages, where it was published in the Liber de Coquina or ‘Book of Cookery’ and ended up becoming a traditional dish.
One traditional method of making lasagne is layers of noodles interwoven with ragu, bechamel, Parmigiano-Reggiano and, believe it or not, chopped hard-boiled eggs. Another method, which is likely more familiar to you, comes from other regions and outside of Italy: the noodles are layered with either ricotta or mozzarella, various vegetables and meats such as chicken or beef, and of course, tomato sauce. Lasagnes such as these are also flavoured with garlic, onion and wine, and of course, all lasagne is baked.
Story of the Word ‘Lasagne’
There are three going theories about where the name for the noodle or the actual finished dish came from, but no one really knows which theory is the most correct.
The first theory is that the ancient Romans had a dish similar to what we recognise now, and they simply called it ‘lasana’ or ‘lasanum,’ which is Latin for ‘container’ or ‘pot.’ It’s theorised that the word has origins more ancient than that, and that Romans took it from the Greek laganon, which means a flat piece of dough cut into long strips. Interestingly, the Greeks still use the word lagana to indicate flat unleavened bread used for what they call ‘Clean Monday.’
A second theory is that the Romans borrowed the Greek word lasana and reformed it as ‘lasanum,’ which, again, means ‘cooking pot,’ and the dish took on the name of the container it was cooked in.
The third theory is that lasagne is derived from the 14th century British dish called Loseyn, featured in a cookery book called The Forme of Cury, which was commonly in use during the reign of King Richard II. The interesting thing about this theory is that while we know lasagne to have tomatoes or tomato sauce, the recipe that allegedly came from 14th-century Britain did not have tomatoes in it. The reason for this is that tomatoes didn’t arrive in Europe till after Columbus landed in the New World in 1492, and tomatoes in Europe weren’t mentioned in herbal books until 1544. The earliest known cookery book with tomatoes in lasagne recipes was found in Naples in the late 1600s, though it’s likely that the recipes were from Spanish sources.
Regardless of which origin theory makes the most sense, historically, lasagne as a traditional food is likely one of the most popular Italian dishes, and it’s here to stay.