Sunday, July 2, 2006

Apple #181: Lasagna and Tomatoes

I made a pan of lasagna last week, and it was big enough that I had a piece just about every day until yesterday. Super-yum.

Those of us who ate it were wondering, what does the word "lasagna" mean anyway? Cheese pie? Pasta with cheese and sauce and cheese? Cheese and good gooey cheese?

(Photo from Pierre J. Mejlak's blog)

  • The word lasagna actually means "pasta in wide sheets." Or, of course, it also means a dish of layers of pasta, sauce, and cheese, all baked together.
  • The Italian word actually comes from the Latin word lasanum, which means "cooking pot." That Latin word comes from a Greek word lasanon, which means "pot with feet" or "chamber pot." As in, the pot where you go to the bathroom when you don't have a bathroom in your house.
  • Fortunately for us, connections no longer exist between lasagna and chamber pots.
  • The first version of lasagna was described in the 13th century. That recipe did not include tomatoes, since tomatoes at that time were unknown to Europeans (including Italians).
  • Before tomato sauce, pasta was eaten dry, with the fingers.

Before tomatoes, this would be finger food, as is.
(Photo from Katura Henlley's site)

  • Which of course makes me wonder, where did tomatoes come from, if not Italy?
  • Answer: the Aztecs.
  • When the Spaniards showed up in Mexico & Central America and conquered the Aztecs, they sailed back home to Spain with, among other things, tomatoes.
  • At that time, the Aztecs' word for the fruit (yes, tomatoes are fruit) was tomatl. When the Europeans got hold of it, they changed the l at the end to various vowels, until finally the o
  • At first, the Europeans were wary of the tomato and wouldn't eat it. It is a member of the nightshade family, after all, and many plants in this family are poisonous. But the tomato, happily, is not.

These tomatoes were grown at Impossible Acres, a farm outside of Davis, CA

  • It was actually Italian peasants who figured out that the tomato wasn't poisonous. They ate it because they didn't have a whole lot of other stuff to eat, and there were tomato plants growing here and there for decorative purposes. So they ate the tomato. And as far as I'm concerned, you can say that pretty much all Italian cuisine comes from there.
  • Okay, so, once the Italians were making pasta with tomatoes, or pasta with sauce, they couldn't eat it with their fingers anymore. Many people think that this is when the fork became widely in demand, "and the manners of the common man were changed."
  • The Spaniards also brought the tomato with them on their exploring/conquering missions to the Philippines. People there got hooked on the tomato, and soon people throughout Asia were enjoying tomatoes, too.
  • Long before that time, Marco Polo went on his famous trip to China. He said that he saw people there eating "a lasagna similar to that which we prepare." Of course, at that time, neither Marco Polo's lasagna nor the Chinese lasagna would have been made with tomatoes. He was really only commenting on the similarities in the pasta itself.
  • Because back in the day, Marco Polo's dish of lasagna probably included....


Online Etymology Dictionary, lasagna, lasagna, tomato
Inmamaskitchen, The History of Pasta
Concetta's Cucina, Pasta History

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