While it has Italian roots, there is no American cook who doesn’t have a version of the filling and satisfying layered pasta, tomato sauce, and cheese. In most of my books I have a version of lasagna and it seems like every time I make it, it is a bit different. It is a dish that translated perfectly from the oven version to a slow cooker version, showing its versatility.
Lasagna, or lasagne which is the plural, is a classic pasta casserole that has become an American culinary icon. Lasagna is the word used to describe the dish itself as well as the type of pasta, strips of flat sheets, that is used. Lasagna is the usual spelling since multiple layers of pasta are used. Lasagna, unlike pizza which ended up an American invention with an Italian persona, is a pure Italian dish that has regional variations and all sorts of additions from meatballs and sausage to a variety of vegetables. It was probably originally made with leftovers. Lasagna recipes show up in the earliest British cookbooks, which left culinary historians to often say lasagna was a classic British casserole. Europe loves lasagna as much as Americans do.
Surprisingly lasagna is a word that comes from the Greek λάσανα (lasana) or λάσανον (lasanon) meaning “trivet or stand for a pot”. Romans borrowed the word as “lasanum”, in Latin, meaning “cooking pot”. The Italians used the word to refer to the dish in which lasagna is made. Later the name of the food took on the name of the serving dish. So it is possible that the dish is Greek as well, think pastitito, as with so many Italian dishes.
The first time I made a slow cooker version, I was really surprised, not only at how fast a simple version could be prepared, but how perfectly the slow cooker environment cooked the deep layered casserole so that it looks and tastes just like the oven version. With the advent of the no-boil dry flat noodle, lasagna is really moments away. I always keep a box of no-boil noodles in the cupboard for a quick lasagna a la momento. You can also use fresh pasta sheets or soak the no-boil noodles in hot water for a few minutes to soften them while you are assembling the other ingredients.
While lasagna is usually thought of as a dish for a group or celebration, I adapted it for the small oval slow cooker and it became a casserole that could feed 2 to 3 as well. No longer will you have to wait for an occasion to make lasagna. Make it this weekend, even if you are a solo diner.