THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Layered and baked goodness


Greens and Vines No Cook Lasagna. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALI’m sure everyone has sampled that classic dish that layers flat sheets of pasta with a meat-laden tomato-based sauce interspersed with ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese that’s then topped with more cheese and baked until bubbly and golden. Yes, I’m referring to lasagna. It was first mentioned in a poem in Italy in the 13th century and the first recorded recipe was documented in the 14th century, describing a flattened dough that was boiled then sprinkled with cheese and herbs.

We’re not sure where the name originated, as some food historians think lasagna comes from the Roman lasana or lasanum, which translates to “container” or “pot” in Latin. Others feel that it comes from the Greek laganon, which are flat sheets of dough cut into strips.

Still others feel it’s derived from the Greek lasanon, which translates to “trivet” or “stand for a pot.” Even in its motherland of origin, it’s referred to as lasagne in the North and lasagna in the South. Technically, lasagna simply refers to one sheet of pasta, while lasagne is the plural, and since even single portions contain more than one sheet, we all eat lasagne.

The Common Theme
Though the original recipe called for boiled dough or pasta, I feel that the common thread for variations of lasagne should be a baked dish that’s layered and contains some type of sauce. For instance, the Greek moussaka layers either slices of cooked eggplant or potatoes with ground spiced meat flavored with garlic, cinnamon, allspice, onions and tomatoes. It is topped with a rich Bechamel sauce and then baked. Greek cuisine also has classic pastitsio, which uses tubular pasta in place of the eggplant or potatoes, but has a similarly spiced, ground meat filling, as well as goat or sheep’s milk cheese and is topped either with a Bechamel or Mornay sauce, then baked.

Farther South in the tropics in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, they create pastelon, which is a lasagne-type dish that uses either mashed or fried strips of plantains in place of the flat pasta in Italy, and their ground meat is spiced with the classic sofrito of bell peppers, onion and tomato, as well as olives, capers and raisins and topped with either a Bechamel-type white sauce or tomato-based marinara before being baked. Variations on the pastelon also use sweet potatoes or boiled then mashed yucca in place of plantains.

Other Variations

Greens and Vines No Cook Lasagna. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

There are many versions of a Mexican-style lasagne using tortilla sheets instead of pasta sheets. I have made my own version on several occasions, usually spreading refried beans on one layer topped with chopped chicken, pork or ground beef, then covered in a tomato, tomatillo or green chili-based sauce. The second layer usually is topped with a mixed, sautéed vegetable mixture with assorted peppers and chopped tomatoes then sprinkled with cotija as well as melting cheeses like queso Oaxaca or Monterey Jack. The two layers are repeated then topped with the same sauce used in layer #1 and #3, with additional melting cheese.

I’ll have to admit that I still haven’t created a potluck-worthy Asian version of lasagne. I entertained the idea of using those round sheets of rice paper used in Vietnamese spring or summer rolls, but because they’re not meant for baking — they simply would dissolve in a heated sauce — it would work as a refrigerated, layered Asian dish, but not necessarily as an Asian lasagne. I also thought of pressing cooked yakisoba or ramen noodles with a little egg binder, then lightly frying them to produce a wide sheet the same way ramen noodles are used as burger buns, but it requires quite a large frying pan to accommodate a 13” by 9” pressed noodle. I also contemplated making a pressed rice cake in the same manner, but again, that would also require quite a large frying vessel. And because most variations of lasagne also contain some type of cheese, which Asian cuisine doesn’t really use, I’ve put my Asian variation on hold for now.

But there are different cooking vessels you can use for your variations, as Chicago Metallic produces a lasagne pan meant to accommodate a perfect lasagne mold for a single standard lasagna noodle. Therefore, you can bake three different variations at one time. There also are sheets of dried lasagne pasta that’s meant to bake without any pre-boiling and the sheets are shaped to either cover a standard 13” by 9” pan by layering three sheets widthwise or used a single sheet in a standard 9” by 4” pan usually used for meatloaf. That is what I used to create a dish for a colleague.

I created this dish for a former colleague before I retired. Sonja was one of our clinic RNs for most of my tenure with the Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) at the Desmond T. Doss Health Clinic. Originally from Germany, she was an Army nurse for several years, then transitioned to the civilian sector, and we both supported Army spouses/families and military retirees for their health care needs. The PCMH staff normally had monthly potluck lunches to celebrate staff birthdays, but I never really participated as lunchtime was simply a time to get a quick bite of my brown bag lunch then finish charting or completing medication refill requests. But because I knew that this would be my last holiday season with the PCMH staff, I signed up for their Thanksgiving luncheon. Sonja was excited to sample my dish as she knew that I wrote for the Nichi Bei Weekly and Hawai‘i Herald and that cooking was one of my hobbies. However, the night before the luncheon she had to make an emergency trip back to Germany so she never sampled my garlic noodles with teriyaki chicken. Therefore, before I retired I created this German Lasagne just for Sonja.

German Lasagna. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

German Lasagne
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 cups milk
1 cup grated Muenster cheese
1 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese
About 1/2 ring smoked kielbasa, sliced
About 1 cup sauerkraut, drained
About 3/4 cup of diced ham
About 3/4 cup grated Jarlsberg or other white melting cheese
Lasagna noodles

This recipe uses a 9” x 4” loaf pan – to use a 13” x 9” pan, simply triple the recipe.

Brown the kielbasa on medium heat, then set aside. In a saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter then add the flour and cook for several minutes then add the caraway seed, celery seed and paprika. Slowly add the milk while constantly whisking until slightly thickened then add the cheeses and continue whisking until a uniform cheese sauce is reached.

Place a little sauce on the bottom of a 9” x 4” that has been greased. Place the lasagna on the sauce then layer with half of the sliced kielbasa and cover with more cheese sauce. Place another lasagna noodle over this then layer with half of the drained sauerkraut, half of the ham and half of the grated melting cheese. Repeat the two steps again, finally topping with a last layer of cheese sauce.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes then cool slightly before slicing. Serves four.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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