In praise of lasagne: the memories and the flavours
Lasagna is always down to good-quality ingredients: use the best and you’ll get the best
Keep your ragu simple: onion, garlic and maybe carrots. Passata is good to use for your sauce.
It is March 1986 and David Bowie’s new single Absolute Beginners blares out over the radio. My father is cooking in the kitchen. He is preparing something we have never eaten before. My mother sticks her head out the window and shouts excitedly, “tell your brother to come home, your father is making lasagne”. Lasagne. It is a word that evokes specific food memories for me. Emotionally, intellectually. It is the start of my relationship with food as something more than just eating.
“We’re absolute beginners,” the song says, as I loop the lasagne around my tongue, “With eyes completely open, But nervous all the same”. Eating engages all of our senses, not to mention our memories. We all eat every day but not every meal produces memorable food moments that mark our identity.
I don’t recall when lasagne first came to Ireland but I do know these days it is so ubiquitous on menus around the country that I would be afraid eating it would offend my memory. I don’t know why we can’t give the same love to a lasagne that we offer to a fillet of beef. Often, lasagne is now the standard vegetarian option in restaurant and more often that not, it’s a pale reflection on its name.
Good mince is key for your lasagne and I find the butcher is always the place to go. Keep your ragu simple: onion, garlic and maybe carrots. Passata is good to use for your sauce. Do make the effort to make your own cheesey bechamel – it’s worth the effort. Equal quantities of flour and butter until it forms a paste and then some warm milk. Season and lash loads of cheese into it. Layer up your lasagna with pasta sheets, ragu and white sauce and then grate more cheddar. Bake away.
In the end, lasagna is always down to good-quality ingredients: use the best and you’ll get the best. For anyone who is adventurous, the Italian chef Massimo Bottura has a lasagne dish called “the crunchy part of the lasagne”. I’ll leave it up to yourself to guess what the dish is made of.