Lasagne al forno with bolognese ragu needs no introduction. Most (if not all) of us have either cooked and/or eaten this lasagne in our lifetimes.
The dish is so familiar to us here in Australia that it often gets referred to as ‘lasagne’: as though it’s the only breed of its kind. But the baked pasta goodness that we know and love is only one variety of lasagne, which hails from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.
Lasagne as a cuisine concept has existed for thousands of years. The phrase 'lagana' – used to refer to a thin, square sheet of baked wheat flour – was already in use in Roman times. Tomato only appeared in lasagne for the first time in Naples in the 1880s, while the layered lasagne we know today was introduced in Italy in the 19th century. The long history of lasagne and many differences in cuisine across Italy’s regions have meant that there are a variety of lasagne types that have been created over the years.
The good news is that you can cook and eat them all, and we've got nine to get that ball rolling...
1. Radicchio pasticcio
Italian chicory lasagne (otherwise known as radicchio pasticcio) is a speciality of the region, Veneto. The vegetarian lasagne is traditionally made using radicchio rosso di treviso (also known as ‘treviso’), a mild variety of radicchio that has long purple and white leaves with a slightly bitter taste. The dish also features béchamel, shallots, Parmigiano and Taleggio cheese.
In this region, baked pasta dishes made with flat lasagne sheets are often called pasticcio. In the south and centre of Italy however, they’re commonly known as ‘lasagne’. Greek cuisine also has a beloved baked pasta dish called pasticcio. It’s interesting to note, given that the Italian word ‘lasagne’ hails from the Greek word ‘laganon’ and the old Republic of Venice ruled the Greek Ionian islands from the 14th to the 18th century.
2. Lasagne bianca
This lasagne from Puglia is white, with no tomatoes in sight. Instead, its flavours are derived from the inclusion of vegetables like mushrooms – traditionally cardoncelli or porcini - or zucchini, béchamel, Parmigiano and burrata (stracciatella – the creamy mixture inside the burrata).
The layering process starts with lasagne sheets at the bottom, followed by béchamel and mushrooms, then and grated Parmigiano. Repeat until you reach the top of the dish. Finish the lasagne with a final layer of béchamel, stracciatella, bits of butter and more Parmigiano.
The long history of lasagne and many differences in cuisine across Italy’s regions have meant that various types of lasagnes have been created over the years.
3. Lasagne al pane carasau
The Sardinian toasted flatbread that is so thin it’s said to resemble sheet music, pane carasau, is the star of this lasagne. Instead of layering lasagne pasta, you use pane carasau (can also be substituted by Lebanese flatbread) in between levels of ragu-style sauce, topped with cheese or even fried eggs.
If you’re embracing meat, you can opt for a ragu mix of beef, turkey and veal rump. If you’re after a meat-free version of this recipe, you can use a combination of mushrooms, peas and eggplant instead of meat, or go for a simple pesto and mozzarella pairing.
4. Lasagne in brodo alla Molisana
This ancient lasagne dish, which doubles as a soup, hails from Molise – a mountainous region in southern Italy, which experiences cold temperatures and snowfall in winter.
The roots of the recipe go back to Roman times. A similar dish gets a mention in a Roman cookbook from the 1st century AD. These days, there are a few versions of the lasagne, proving its versatility. You can use just chicken or a combination of veal meatballs, chicken and veal. The one constant is that this lasagne in brodo always features a meat-based broth.
After the broth is made, the meat is shredded and stuffed in between layers of pasta, mozzarella, Parmigiano and nutmeg. Finally, the lasagne is cooked in the broth. The result is warming and nourishing – pure comfort food, Molise-style.
5. Lasagne alla Norma
Eggplant is the hero of this Sicilian lasagne, which uses the vegetable to replace meat. The baked pasta also includes roasted eggplant, tomato sauce, basil and ricotta.
The dish’s name pays homage to ‘La Norma’, an opera of composer Vincenzo Bellini and is said to reflect the moving combination of ingredients in the recipe.
6. Vincisgrassi (lasagne Marche-style)
Vincigrassi is a rich, traditional first course from the eastern Italian region, Marche. The dish’s name honours an Austrian general who was involved in military action in the 1800s.
Although it’s similar to the most popular lasagne made in Australia – lasagne al forno with Bolognese ragu from Emilia-Romagna – it differs in its meat variety.
Traditionally, vincisgrassi uses beef and offal: chicken livers, hearts and sweetbread. Italian chef, Silvia Colloca’s version features a rich ragù of beef mince, chicken livers and sausage meat, along with homemade pasta sheets, béchamel sauce and two types of cheese. But you can also use cured ham and cream, or mushrooms and pork.
7. Lasagne verde
If you love pesto, this is the lasagne for you. It’s a simple dish that celebrates the luscious flavour and texture of the Genovese speciality, pesto. According to the Ligurians of Italy’s northwest, the basil that grows around the coast of Liguria is the best in the world thanks to the area’s unique geography.
The lasagne is constructed like all the others: in layers. You’re repeating this order until you reach the top of the dish - spread the pesto over multiple lasagne sheets and top it with béchamel sauce. This lasagna is a perfect way to make the most of a summertime abundance of the herb – the meat is replaced with fragrant basil pesto. You can also inject some chopped spring vegetables between the layers as well.
According to the Ligurians of Italy’s north-west the basil that grows around the coast of Liguria is the best in the world thanks to the area’s unique geography. The capital, Genoa, is the birthplace of basil pesto after all, and it is rare to find a Genoan without a plot of basil, or some growing on the windowsill. This lasagna is a perfect way to make the most of a summertime abundance of the herb – the meat is replaced with a fragrant basil pesto. You will need a pasta machine for this recipe.
8. Lasagne alla Napoletana
The traditional baked pasta dish from Naples features the usual ragu of the familiar lasagne al forno most of us know as well as sausage, smoked cheese, ricotta, salami, egg and meatballs. If it sounds quite heavy and rich, that’s because it is.
The lasagne is typically served during Carnevale when excess is welcomed. Hence, the dish also goes by the name ‘lasagne di Carnevale.
When making this dish, use dry durum wheat pasta sheets to sustain the weight of the pasta sauce and its many indulgent ingredients.
9. A Tuscan homage
The ragù in this lasagne pays homage to penne all’Aconese. It’s served at Ristorante Pizzeria Acone, a community-run restaurant in the Tuscan village of Acone, perched at the top of the mountain where Ixta Belfrage spent her formative childhood years. The recipe is a closely guarded secret, but the complex, earthy and deeply umami flavour of dried porcini mushrooms is impossible to miss. This is her meatless take on that mythical sauce.
Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @yasmin_noone
Layers of roasted vegetables, mushroom ragu and pumpkin béchamel sauce make this lasagne seriously special. All the layers do involve a bit of work, so I usually prepare a huge quantity to feed a crowd.
This is a beautiful alternative to traditional lasagne. Using preserved artichokes, rather than preparing fresh ones, makes this dish very quick to assemble.
This cheat's version of a lasagne is a great way of turning a weekend favourite into an easy weeknight meal.
Ooey gooey goodness was once only possible at home, in an oven, where layer upon layer of pasta, cheese, and sauce bubbled together in a tidy rectangular baking dish. But classic lasagne can now be had in camp!