Chow Town

National Lasagna Day? Now that’s a holiday you can sink your teeth into

It’s National Lasagna Day, let’s celebrate!
It’s National Lasagna Day, let’s celebrate!

Today is national lasagna day and I just had to celebrate and write about the history of his dish and the many ways it is prepared and enjoyed around the world.

Historians date this dish back to 146 BC when the Romans overthrew Greece. Many believe the word’s origin comes from the Greek word “laganon,” which describes a flat dough sliced into strips.

When the Romans brought this dish to Italy they made it a little bit different than what we know today. In the Middle Ages it debuted in Naples. It was served only for special occasions. You must remember tomatoes did not travel to Italy until after Columbus discovered America so lasagna was prepared with a white bechamel sauce and a meat ragu.

There is an argument that in ancient Rome there was a similar dish, lasanum which means a container or a pot.

As the dish moved farther north, the pasta was made with eggs and became even richer.

In Sicily, they even prepare a special dish called a Timballo that is very similar and so delicious. There are many versions. There are many versions of this. I enjoy it frequently when I visit my cousins in our family’s hometown.

And as for the Greeks, my friend Tasso from Tasso’s Reataurant here in Kansas City make one of my favorite versions, Pastitsio, in a white sauce with a hint of nutmeg and ground beef. Talk about delicious!

When the dish traveled to America, it was an instant hit by the Napolitanos on the East Coast. Instead of a few single layers it became stack, sometimes as high as 5 to 6 inches.

As happens with a lot of Italian dishes in America, it has changed even more, containing vegetables and chicken and even a dessert version.

So with all these different types of lasagna, I decided to create an easy one-pan version of lasagna and I think it’s kind of crazy.

I do hope you enjoy the recipe and get to celebrate this special national foodie holiday with me.

Mangia Bene!

Chef Jasper’s Crazy Lasagna

1 pound lasagna noodles

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage

1 tablespoon fennel seed

2 14.5 ounce cans whole tomatoes

2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil

Sea salt to taste

Red pepper flakes to taste

1 pound ricotta cheese

8 ounces Romano cheese (grated)

8 ounces fresh mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Cook pasta according to package directions. Strain and set aside.

Place olive oil in a sauté pan and add sausage. Add fennel seed and brown the sausage. Drain excess oil and add both cans of diced tomatoes with garlic and olive oil. Let sauce simmer 10-15 minutes. Add basil, salt and red pepper to taste.

Chop fresh Mozzarella into cubes. Cut cooked lasagna into small squares. Place lasagna in a mixing bowl, add the sauce & sausage mix and all the cheese.

Mix until all is evenly distributed.

Spray a casserole with nonstick cooking spray. Add pasta mixture to casserole and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Or you can saute all on the stove and serve. It’s that crazy!

If you go the baking route, remove from oven and cool slightly before serving.

Jasper’s notes: So easy, you can do this with your eyes closed. Add mushrooms & peas for added flavor and more red pepper flakes to spice it up. More cheese on top of the casserole is a welcome addition!

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.