Is there any difference?
It's mezzogiorno (midday) and Nonna Lili takes a steaming tray from the oven announcing, "E pronto!" (It's ready!)"Ecco il pasticcio!" (Here's the pasticcio!) or is it lasagne?
In Italy's north Veneto region where Venice is capital city, any layered pasta dish is known as pasticcio /pas-tih-choh/ The rest of Italy may call the same dish lasagne, or la lasagna depending on the area, that said, the word pasticcio is a fascinating one which describes pasta al forno (oven-baked pasta) with a charming touch of irony...
'A brilliant Italian word, 'pasticcio' is an ensemble of things - it describes pies, quiches and even patties but it also translates as a predicament or mess. For example, you could drop a bowl of pasta on the floor and claim, "Ma che pasticcio!' - What a mess!'
- From our blog post 'Mamma Mia'.
I agree a perfectly proportioned 'mess' of slow-cooked ragù layered with creamy béchamel and beautiful cheeses is hardly un 'pasticcio' but the recipe has been around since it featured in Latin as pasticium in the renowned Roman recipe book “De coquinaria” by Apicio as a water and flour crust with a meat filling two thousand years ago.
Perhaps the combination of ingredients making one dish inspired the quirky Latin description and then, in later years, the dish became neatly layered but ask any Venetian and they'll call lasagne a pack of flat, dried pasta sheets. One lasagna - one sheet, lasagne - many sheets.
Head further south towards Rome and le lasagne translate as 'the dish'.
Every Region is Unique
Italy is an ensemble of individual provinces within regions, each with their unique characteristics, foods and dialects. Down in Naples, during Carnival, a decadent dish appears around and about the province - Lasagna Napolitana with layers of wavy egg pasta, slow cooked pork ragù, boiled eggs and meatballs in thick Napolitan Marzano tomato sauce using provola, ricotta, mozzarella and parmigiano - a real feast!
On the gorgeous island of Sardinia, le lasagne are often made with pane carasau - paper thin, unleavened bread fashioned for the shepherds who roam the island nomadically; the Sardinians romantically call their traditional bread 'music sheets'.
In Greece, we know pastitsio as a layered dish of oven-baked pasta tubes with minced beef sauce.
Back in Veneto, un pasticcio may be many things. Whatever is in season will feature on Nonna Lili's table and at Mangia Mangia we follow her lead, revelling in every season's offerings with glee - in autumn we feature pumpkin, gorgonzola Speck and walnuts in Lasagna Autunno; in spring asparagus, pancetta and pecorino in Lasagna Asparagi and all year round Lasagna Montagna celebrates the best of the Italian Alps - mushrooms, Speck and scamorza affumicata.
But essentially to an Italian, the most classic of all lasagne lives in Bologna, home of the meat sauce bolognese. Bologna is known as the capital of Italy's most foodie of all regions - Emilia Romagna because this central area claims the most DOC (geographically protected) products of all. People here are so protective about their world-famous recipe, they've stored it safely in the Camera di Commercio di Bologna (Chamber of Commerce) where no one can touch it. What makes Lasagne alla bolognese so special? Well, nothing in particular.... the ingredients are relatively simple:
350g of 00 flour
200g of steamed spinach for the lasagne sheets
500g ragù bolognese
200g Parmigiano Reggiano
350g of bechamel
salt and pepper
But isn't that what Italy is all about? Beautiful ingredients making beautiful food. We say it often... delicious bread and delicious salame makes a delicious panino.
'Many Italians will defend 'una lasagna' as a sheet of raw pasta and lasagne as the dish, but it depends where they grew up.'
- From our blog post 'Festa della Mamma'