History of Lasagne: When was Lasagna Invented & Where Did Lasagna Originate? Is it Italian or is there a more ancient story to the origin of Lasagne? Plus, what is the difference between lasagna and lasagne?
In this article & podcast, a look at all the claims for the origin of Lasagne – From Ancient Greece, to England and of course, Italy. What makes a true traditional Lasagne? What ingredients have to be present?
Below you’ll find our History of Lasagne Podcast as well as a detailed companion article which explains all of the competing claims. As often happens, wikipedia doesn’t always tell the whole story, that’s why we’ve searched way beyond – as well as visiting Italy – in order to investigate.
S2E1 – History of Lasagne: When Was Lasagna Invented & Where Did Lasagna Originate?
Podcast Version – Listen Now – But find the companion article below.
In This Episode of “The Dish”:
- Who invented the Lasagne, and when?
- Was it even the Italians, or did Greece or the UK invent it first?
- The controversy over the first written recipe for Lasagne
- PLUS, a local rivalry, who’s Lasagne is the best!
Below is the companion article for the podcast – this is NOT A TRANSCRIPT but just an overview with some additional notes about the key stories we discuss in the podcast. Listen to the full podcast for more info and more fun!
(The below info contains SPOILERS from the episode)
The History Of Lasagne – Origin Of Lasagne
So was lasagne invented in Italy, like most people think. Or not?
The history of Lasagne is hotly contested, so in this companion article we’ll look at some of the claims from oldest to newest…
Before we do that we need a definition of Lasagne so we can decide whether the ancient versions match the modern dish closely enough to say they were really lasagne, or just a pre-cursor to the modern dish.
What Is Lasagne? And is what is the difference between “lasagna” and “lasagne”
Amazingly, even finding a consistent definition for Lasagne online has been a little tricky.
Firstly, the word Lasagna with an “a” on the end refers to the individual lasagna pasta sheets.
The dish lasagne should be spelt with an “e” on the end. This is because in Italian language, feminine nouns ending with an “a” refer to the singular, ending with an “e” refers to the plural. So, for our first piece of information, the modern name “Lasagne” is definitely an Italian word, and the dish is considered to be a girl, apparently 🙂
As for a formal definition of what constitutes “Lasagne” the dish:
All definitions agree it is a baked dish with layers of pasta sheets (lasagna).
A cheese element is important, although this rules out vegan lasagne… But I think when we are talking about a traditional lasagne dish, no one expects it to be vegan, so that makes sense.
But, must the cheese be in the form of a cheese sauce? Or just as grated or chopped cheese? Definitions disagree. More on that later.
Definitions do agree that a tomato based sauce or ragu is an important element. Also that meat and/or vegetables used in the layers is typical.
So, this would rule out any dish created before tomatoes coming to Europe as being the modern dish lasagne. And a cheese only layered dish without the other elements is not what we are talking about either – that sort of dish might be considered a proto-lasagne.
When Was Lasagna Invented & Where Did Lasagna Originate?
So let’s look at the historical contenders.
Claim number one is from ancient Greece, pre Roman occupation. So we are talking BC. This theory suggests that ancient greek dough sheets, cut in strips, called “laganon”, were used to make a layered dish.
When the Romans turned up, it is theorized that they could have been influenced by the existing Greek food culture. Many contend that the word lasagne may have derived from the greek word laganon. But also the latin word Lassanum which means cooking pot, or the earlier Greek word lassanon which means chamber pot. The connection being that lasagne is baked in a pot.
But the ancient Greek dish itself, without evidence of a definite recipe, seems at best a forerunner to layered baked dishes, and not necessarily much like a modern lasagna at all. A more modern version of Greek Lasagne called pasticcio uses tube shape pasta, rather than flat strips. Also, Laganon pasta is still made in Greece today, just not specifically to make Greek Lasagne.
Rome: Roman Lasagna
Next is a Roman dish, recorded around the 1st century AD in the cook book called Apicius. But this recipe may not be a top choice for the modern palate. The ragu (meat sauce) is made from grinding together pork belly, including the udders. As well as fish, and the meat from little birds, such as the thrush. The layers of pasta are more like pancakes than egg pasta. Once again, the idea of layering protein and carbs is present, but it doesn’t sound even close to a Lasagne, other than for the layering method.
Next up, two competing sources for 14th century recipes. The first, from the British court of Richard the 2nd, where his cooks recorded a recipe for “Lozenges” – eggless pasta sheets, layered with cheese, then baked. But scholars claim this recipe book formed from recipes collected from all over Europe and the arab world, so this could be referencing recipes from Italy. plus, still just sounds like cheesey pasta, not lasagne.
A slightly early cookbook from Italy called the Liber de Coquina details layers of pasta with cheese and spices, such as nutmeg and pepper, between each layer. A little closer to modern lasagna, but still no ragu.
Once we hit the 16th century, tomatoes have made it to Italy. The first definite written reference being in 1544 in the book “herbal”. Though Ragu with tomato didn’t come until later.
The internet is full of sources claiming the original lasagna recipe, or at least that a tomato ragu recipe exists in a cookbook published in Naples in 1692… However, not a single source I’ve found actually references that book by name. Just that a book exists. I can’t find this book. Anywhere.
It seems likely though that the modern Lasagne was conceived around this time. With all the elements we expect.
BUT was it invented in Napoli, or was it just first recorded in Napoli? No one seems to know.
But this actually brings us back to the original definition of Lasagne.
Lasagne Napoletana also called Lasagne di Carnevale, from Napoli, is different from the internationally recognised Lasagne al forno, which is from Emilia Romagna. The Napoli version is made with layers of pasta and ragu, but also with layers of ricotta cheese, mozzarella, sausage and or meatballs, and sometimes even with sliced boiled egg.
By contrast, the internationally famed Emilia Romagna version is layers of Ragu, and of Bechamel sauce, a cheese sauce which is, in Emilia Romagna, made with the local Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The differing ingredients of the Napoli and Emilia Romagna Lasagne reflect what was produced locally in the region at the time – different types of cheese.
But which came first? There doesn’t seem to be a conclusive answer. But, if the presence of Tomatoes was important, then Napoli is more likely to have been successfully cultivating tomatoes and having easy access to them, sooner and more regularly than Bologna.
So, perhaps Lasagne Napoletana came first. But, these are two different types of Lasagne, with the Emilia Romagna version, seemingly having gained a wider popularity and being most commonly emulated worldwide.
Although Emilia Romagna actually uses green spinach pasta lasagna sheets, and that is less common worldwide. Yet another variation!
So, Where Did Lasagna Originate?
Italy but from influences that pre-date the tomato. And the city states of the region invented multiple varieties around about the same time it seems. And, actually Italy wasn’t the same country – neither Bologna or Naples were part of Italy until 1860. So, it was really invented in the area now known as Italy.
Egg pasta was invented in Northern italy, In the south they were using pasta without eggs previously. So, even different types of pasta may have been used. it’s all very confusing!
So, When Was Lasagna Invented?
The modern version of Lasagna was invented sometime between 1544 & 1692 – most likely in either Emilia Romagna or Naples (Napoli). But the modern style was based off other similar dishes that may have existed since Ancient Greece.
Where in Emilia Romagna was Lasagne al Forno invented?
If that wasn’t already enough contention on origin, even the origin of Lasagne in Emilia Romagna itself is contested… Was lasagne al forno invented in the city of Bologna, or Modena or somewhere else? Listen to the full podcast episode to hear from locals
We loved the Bolognese version over the versions we’ve normally seen in the UK, USA and Australia. Rather than being drowned in red sauce and meat, the rich and creamy bechamel sauce really got to shine in this version.
Our full guide to the cuisine of Bologna & Emilia Romagna is here.
Take A Bologna Food Tour
If you want a top Bologna food experience and to get an on the ground introduction to the best Bologna food, then you can learn and taste a lot by taking a Bologna food walking tour. Our friend Andrea from Taste Bologna (Who we interviewed for our podcast above) is an expert foodie who grew up in Bologna. We highly recommend checking out his highly rated food tour on tripadvisor.
Book one of the Taste Bologna Food Tours.
Some other tours in Bologna: