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Lasagna al Forno


Pasta is the most prestigious member of the rich and varied Italian culinary family. From time unknown, this simple dough of water and powdered wheat has been appeasing the taste buds of Italy. And today, pasta has found its way to the global palate in various forms. However, the origins of pasts remain entangled in its luscious strings.
Many food connoisseurs trace the origin of pasta in the pages of Greek mythology. It is believed that the Greek word " laganon " indicated a wide and flat sheet of pasta dough cut into stripes. In succeeding centuries the existence of pasta was found in Roman cookery as " lagane ". The first recorded evidence of Roman connection to pasta appears in 1st century A.D. in the writings of Apicio, titled " de re coquinaria ", when he narrates the use of " the yielding lagane to enclose timbales and pie stuffing ". However, one thing is for sure that the hands that first kneaded the dough for pasta was not a Chinese. The romanticism surrounding the myth that Marco Polo brought pasta to the Italian shores on his way back from China is pacified by the fact that it found mention long before the explorer's arrival. It is believed to be around 1279 A.D., when an inheritance draft stated that a certain person has bequeathed " a small basket full of macaroni ", widely acclaimed as the " dry " pasta.

The landscape of Naples remained witness to a gastronomic revolution in 17th century leaving a savouring legacy for rich appetite. Around this time, along with other things, the tangy flavour of tomato arrived from the New World, bringing in a welcome break from the regular taste of sweet and sour. Tomato seemed to be destined to meet with pasta and together they changed the world gourmet forever.

One of the most famous examples of oven-baked pasta is lasagne al forno which vary depending on the geographical area. For instance, in southern Italy, white sauces are rarely used since butter was virtually unknown in that region until just a few decades ago.

LASAGNA AL FORNO

Ingredients
• 1 pound dried lasagna noodles
• Olive oil
• 1 onion, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, sliced
• 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
• 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
• 3 bay leaves
• 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
• 1 pound ground Italian sausage
• 6 ounces tomato paste, (1 can)
• 30 ounces ricotta cheese, (2 containers)
• 1/4 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
• Salt and black pepper, to taste
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 4 cups tomato sauce, prepared
• 1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
• Grated Parmesan and mozzarella, for topping
Directions
Cook the lasagna noodles in plenty of boiling salted water until pliable and barely tender, about 10 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon to prevent sticking. Drain the noodles thoroughly, coat with olive oil keep them moist and easy to work with.
Coat a large skillet with olive oil. Saute over medium heat, onion, garlic and herbs. Cook 5 minutes. Brown beef and sausage until no longer pink, about 15 minutes. Drain fat into a small container and discard. Stir in the tomato paste completely. Set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, combine ricotta, parsley and oregano. Stir in beaten eggs. Add Parmesan, season with salt and pepper.
To assemble the lasagna: Coat the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch pan with a ladle full of tomato sauce. Arrange 4 noodles lengthwise in a slightly overlapping layer on the sauce. Then, line each end of the pan with a lasagna noodle. This forms a collar that holds in the corners. Spread 1/2 of the meat mixture over the pasta. Dollop 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the meat, spread to the edges with a spatula. Sprinkle 1/2 of the mozzarella on top of the ricotta. Top with a ladle full of tomato sauce, spread evenly. Repeat with the next layer of noodles, meat, cheeses and sauce. Top last layer with noodles, sauce and shredded mozzarella and Parmesan. Tap the pan to force out air bubbles. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven. Let lasagna rest for 30 minutes so the noodles will settle and cut easily. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence

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