Lasagna, or its plural form lasagne, is a form of pasta. Particularly, the alternate layers of dough and fillings that are served in square slices. The pasta is flat and wide. Ragù, an Italian sauce made with ground meat and tomatoes, is the most essential filling. Next to it is the cheese, which includes parmesan and ricotta. Seasonings, herbs, spices, and vegetables are also common additions. This dish is traditionally topped with grated mozzarella cheese, which is broiled in the oven or salamander. Nonetheless, lasagna is a very flavorful dish with sweet and savory notes. The first bite of a crunchy cheese crust, followed by a creamy and meaty sauce combined with a warm munch of pasta truly makes this dish an irresistible one.
The shocking truth:
Most of us know that lasagna is an Italian dish. But technically, it’s not. Tracing back to Ancient Greece, the word was actually derived from “laganon,” the first known form of making pasta. Hence, the Greek word refers to the method of layering rather than the ingredients used. However, the earliest mention of the lasagna recipe remains to be disputed. Knowing that Italy exerted so much effort to perfect the layers of deliciousness, there’s no wonder that they claim to be the first one. As a matter of fact, they stake the 1390 medieval cookbook as its earliest mention.
- While laganon calls for a flat dough sliced in strips, Italy doesn’t. In Northern Italy, lasagna is made with unbroken flat noodles. In Southern Italy, the noodles are rippled and so in the United States.
- July 29 is National Lasagna Day. A lot of countries celebrate this event; Italy, Sweden, and the United States to name a few.
- The largest lasagne weighs 4,865 kg or 10,725 lbs and 7 oz. It was created in Poland on June 20, 2012, to serve the UEFA European Football Championship in the country. Around 5,000 participants helped in the making.
- Portofino, an Italian restaurant at The Mirage, in Las Vegas, is home to the most expensive lasagna in the world. The restaurant serves a “Diamond and Gold lasagna” at $100 per slice.
- A Texas lasagna is not made with pasta, but with tortilla chips!
Lasagna Buying Guide
From local artisans to large supermarkets like H-E-B and Natural Grocers, lasagna are indeed scattered everywhere in the state of Texas. Nevertheless, here are some helpful things to keep in mind when you opt to buy the store-bought ones:
- You can buy frozen, ready-to-reheat lasagna in the frozen section. Beef, chicken, and vegetables are the top bestsellers. Stouffer, Michael Angelo, and Hill Country Fare are the most popular brands.
- You can find the lasagna noodles in the pasta section of the store. Brown rice, white, and wheat lasagna noodles are the most popular varieties. H-E-B, Skinner, Central Market, and Ronzoni are the most popular brands.
- You can find lasagna sauce in the sauce or seasoning section of the store. Prego, Ragu, and Bertolli are some of the most popular brands.
- When buying pasta sauce, check out the sodium content as most of them go heavy on this. Or better yet, opt for no-salt-added, reduced-sodium, or low-sodium, and just add salt as you normally flavor your dishes.
- If possible, go for the ones that contain organic ingredients.
- Be sure to always check out the ingredients list and pick the ones with lesser preservatives and hard to pronounce chemicals.
- Pick the ones that are completely sealed to assure that the product hasn’t been contaminated. For bottled pasta sauces, do not buy unless the cap and neckband is intact. Cans or packages that leaks, rusts, bulges, or is torn or severely dented should be discarded.
- As always, lasagne from local food vendors and artisans in farmers’ markets are better than the mass-produced ones. Here, you’ll get close to no preservatives and the ingredients are usually organic. Their products are also made in small batches and you might be able to get free samples along the way. And, don’t forget that our Texas Real Food website is home to all Texan vendors that would love to hear from you.
Lasagna Production & Farming in Texas
With lasagna being one of the most popular comfort foods in the world, there’s no wonder that this dish is also widely being produced in the state. However, the state of Texas has its own way of producing this scrumptious dish.
Traditionally, a lasagna is planned and assembled carefully as it’s very easy to make mistakes. Lasagna noodles shouldn’t be over-cooked; it should be laid flat on a greased tray or casserole to prevent clumping. Also, the sauce should be the first layer, rather than the pasta. When cooking, the lasagna should be covered in the first half of the cooking period and exposed during the second half. If a lasagna is baked uncovered for the entire time, it can be dry and possibly burnt. Meanwhile, you can also add spinach, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, and roasted peppers. Plus, any meat can also be used as a replacement to ground beef. With no-boil noodles being widely available these days, boiling pasta in water isn’t necessary anymore. However, it needs to have a lot of sauce so that the noodles can get wet and cook. Nowadays, even the noodles can be cooked in the dishwasher too! All you’ve got to do is to put the noodles in a dishwasher-safe container, cover it nicely with aluminum foil, and place it in the dishwasher. Press the heated-dry and sanitize cycle button to cook your pasta!
Nevertheless, the production of lasagna in Texas is ingeniously different. Instead of pasta, we use tortilla chips. We also use taco seasoning to flavor the lasagna sauce – and we use salsa! Furthermore, Texas lasagna is traditionally spicy. Different homegrown chile peppers are commonly added for that heat. Avocados or guacamoles on top of the freshly-baked lasagna also became a popular tradition. If it’s not something you’ve tried before, then you’re missing out. The recipe can be found below.
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
While packaged lasagne are more convenient to buy in stores, it might not be our best choice as most of them contain additives and chemicals for a lower cost yet fast-producing and shelf-stable products. Hence, here are some additives that we found on top brands of lasagne pasta, sauce, and frozen lasagna.
- Vitamins and Minerals – Sometimes, a product is either enriched or it contains enriched ingredients. Enriching food means that the nutrients that were lost during processing, such as refinement, are added back into the product to restore its original vitamin and mineral levels. For lasagna, some vitamins and minerals include the following: vitamin b1 (thiamine mononitrate), vitamin b2 (riboflavin), vitamin b3 (niacin), iron (ferrous sulfate / ferrous lactate), and folic acid.
- MSG – Monosodium Glutamate is used to enhance the flavor of almost any product. It is the one responsible for creating that umami flavor. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it can cause headaches, flushing, palpitations, sweating, nausea, numbness, and weakness to some people. It allegedly can cause asthma, brain damages, and even cancer; however, these allegations remained controversial.
- Dextrose and Maltodextrin – It is a type of sugar that acts as an artificial sweetener, food neutralizer, and a preservative. Too much consumption of this ingredient can lead to body fluid build-up and high blood sugar.
- Yeast Extracts – These are added as a flavor enhancer and possess the same side effects just like MSG. You may want to avoid products with these ingredients especially if you have blood pressure problems or sodium-related concerns.
- Modified Food Starch – This additive is usually made with wheat, potato, corn, or tapioca. It acts as a binding agent, thickener, stabilizer, and preservative. This additive offers empty calories – they provide no nutritional value, yet it adds a considerable amount of carbohydrates which can promote weight gain. This ingredient should also be avoided by someone who is gluten intolerant.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – This artificial sweetener never does any good to our health. Too much consumption of this additive can lead to diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, obesity, and other serious diseases.
- Thickening Agents – Added in the right amount, these thickening agents improve the viscosity of any food without changing its taste. Some natural thickeners include corn starch, potato starch, yellow cornmeal, wheat flour, and other flours.
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein – Abbreviated as HVP, this additive creates a broth taste without meat, bones, and vegetables. Common HVP includes hydrolyzed corn, hydrolyzed yeast protein (a.k.a. yeast extracts), hydrolyzed soy, hydrolyzed wheat protein, and hydrolyzed wheat gluten. Although HVP is a processed additive, it is a good source of protein.
- Citric Acid – This additive is a natural preservative in foods. It is a weak and organic acid that is found on citrus fruits. Thus, citric acid adds that sour or acidic taste to the product. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it may cause muscle cramps, weight gain, stomach pain, and convulsions.
- Carrageenan – This additive is a natural thickener, emulsifier, and preservative that comes from red seaweeds. And although it is natural and classified as generally safe to consume, great amounts can promote bloatedness, IBS, inflammation, and even colon cancer.
Lasagne also varies when it comes to packaging. Frozen lasagne dishes usually come in microwave-safe plastic containers or packets that are enclosed in cartons. Meanwhile, lasagne sauces come in mason jars, cans, pouches, and plastic containers. Some sauces that come as a dry mix are packaged in packets. Likewise, lasagna noodles are packaged in a sealed plastic enclosed in cartons. Another popular packaging is the lasagna kit, where sauce and pasta can both be found in the package.
Lasagna is a complete, stand-alone meal that is commonly served in squares with garlic bread on the side. Since this dish is rich and cheesy, it’ll be best paired with something light, vibrant, and refreshing. Dress some fresh salad, or make a quick lemon-ginger spinach while your lasagna is baking in the oven. Meanwhile, a Texas-style lasagna is traditionally enjoyed with Picante sauce, tortilla chips, and guacamoles on top!
Frozen, ready to reheat lasagna dish should be kept in its package and stored in the freezer, where it could last for up to 1 ½ year. Likewise, unopened liquid lasagna sauces can also last for around 12-18 months. But upon opening, transfer the sauce into the refrigerator and consume within 5 days. Mason jars can be directly placed in the fridge while canned sauces should be transferred in a non-reactive container before putting it in. Placing the can directly in the fridge can promote food-borne illnesses like botulism. Also, if you see molds in the sauce, discard it right away.
Meanwhile, dry lasagna noodles can retain its premium quality for about 3 years. Refrigeration isn’t necessary, but keep it in a dry place and keep the package sealed.
Make your own Lasagna (Texas-style!)
If there is an award for the most innovative state in the world, Texas will surely reap it! With our love for Tex-Mex food, even our lasagna is made with tortilla chips instead of pasta. A spicy and meaty salsa fighting with molten cheese and tortilla chips is definitely a crowd-pleaser. Not to mention the extra applause you’ll get once you top this with fresh avocados. Thus, if you’re in for the next big thing, below is an award-winning recipe of Texas lasagna:
Yield: 6 servings
- ¾ lb ground beef
- 2 oz green chiles, chopped
- 7 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 7 tsp taco seasoning
- 1 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
- 7 oz tomato sauce
- 1 cup cottage cheese (ideally 4% milkfat)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 6 corn tortillas, torn
- 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese
- Crushed tortilla chips, as needed (optional)
- Salsa, as needed (optional)
- Cubed avocado, as needed (optional)
- Preheat the oven at 350ºF.
- Place a large skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle a few drops of water onto the pan and when the water evaporates quickly, it’s time to put the beef.
- Brown the beef until there isn’t much water in your skillet. Add chiles, tomatoes, taco seasoning, and salt. Stir until the mixture is slightly dry.
- Then, add the tomato sauce and reduce the heat to simmer, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix cottage cheese and eggs in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Grease a baking dish with oil or butter. Set aside.
- To assemble, layer half each of the following: sauce, tortillas, cottage cheese mixture, and Monterey Jack cheese. Repeat the same to create the second layer.
- Baked in the oven, for about 30 minutes, with the first half being covered and the second half being exposed, or until the top cheese is bubbly and its edges are slightly brown. Rest for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with the optional ingredients if desired.