Lasagna is a firm favorite in many households, a crowd-pleasing dish guaranteed to satisfy hungry tummies! When it comes to making lasagna, it is quite unlike any other pasta dish, consisting of layers of ingredients baked in the oven.
But does this mean that lasagna is a casserole? Lasagna is a baked pasta dish cooked in a casserole pot, so it can be classed as a fancy and more technical type of casserole. However, the individual components of a lasagna need to be prepared separately, so it is not a one-pot casserole.
Let’s delve into the world of lasagna and find out all about this delightful Italian recipe!
What Is Lasagna?
OK, so this is one of these confusing culinary situations where one word is used to describe two different things.
Firstly, lasagna is a type of pasta that is rolled into flat sheets. It may also be referred to as lasagna sheets and can be bought from the store in dried form.
You can sometimes also find fresh lasagna sheets in the chiller section, or you can make themself with a pasta roller (this one’s our favorite)!
Lasagna pasta is thought to be one of the oldest forms of pasta, with records showing lasagna recipes from the Middle Ages. To this day, it is still one of the most popular types of pasta and is used all around the world.
The second way in which the word lasagna is used is to describe a popular Italian dish, made using lasagna pasta.
Unlike most pasta dishes where the sauce is added to the cooked pasta, lasagna is made by cooking the pasta sheets within the dish itself.
There cannot be many people who haven’t enjoyed tucking into a delicious lasagna bake, with its delicate layers of pasta, meat, and sauce.
A top-class lasagna is one of life’s true pleasures, and we should be grateful for the genius who first came up with this culinary concoction!
Is Lasagna The Pasta Or The Dish?
So, what is lasagna, the pasta or the dish? Well, they are both lasagnas! Yes, we know that is a bit confusing, so for the purposes of this article, we will refer to the pasta as lasagna sheets.
This terminology is not uncommon in the world of pasta, with the name of the type of pasta also used to describe the dish it is used in.
Dishes such as ravioli, tortellini, linguine, and even macaroni are often used to describe a cooked dish, when in fact they are all types of pasta.
The unusual thing about lasagna sheets is that they are only normally used to make lasagna itself. They are not well suited for many other dishes.
However, there are many modern variations on lasagna, with chicken and vegetarian options becoming increasingly popular.
How Is Lasagna Made?
Lasagna is made by layering sheets of pasta in a dish along with other ingredients.
The version that most people know around the world is called lasagne al forno, and contains a ground beef ragu and bechamel sauce. The word “forno” means oven in Italian, and this dish is normally baked in the oven.
To make a traditional lasagna, ground beef is cooked in a rich ragu of passata, red wine, and herbs.
A thin layer of this is spooned into an oven-proof dish and topped with lasagna sheets. More beef ragu is added to cover the pasta, then a layer of bechamel sauce.
Most people use dried lasagna sheets to make this dish, although fresh lasagna is also commonly available. It is not necessary to precook the dried lasagna sheets, as they will cook in the ragu sauce, soaking up all that delicious flavor.
These layers are repeated until you have 4-5 layers of pasta, and the top layer of bechamel is covered in shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese.
The whole dish is baked in the oven until the pasta is al dente, and the cheese topping is golden brown.
A good lasagna should be able to stand up by itself when served. The lasagna is sliced into squares which are lifted out with a spatula onto dinner plates.
With any luck, you will get a perfectly firm lasagna with all the individual layers clearly visible!
What Is A Casserole?
Another piece of terminology with a double meaning, the word casserole is used to describe a dish and a type of cooking!
A casserole dish is one that can be used in the oven. It is normally a heavyweight dish that retains heat well, allowing food to cook for long periods at low temperatures.
Most casserole dishes have a tightly-fitting lid that will prevent steam and moisture from escaping.
The word casserole can also be used to describe a type of cooking, where ingredients are combined in a casserole dish and cooked slowly until the flavors blend together.
This is a popular cooking method as it allows all components of a meal to be cooked in one dish—the ultimate one-pot cooking!
Confusingly, the word casserole has been adopted to include other cooking methods.
Sometimes you will hear a dish cooked on the stovetop referred to as a casserole, while purists would say that a casserole is a dish that is always baked in the oven.
The use of the word casserole also varies according to what part of the world you are from. In the United States, it will normally include meat or fish, chopped vegetables, and some form of carbohydrates such as potato or pasta.
Cooked in this way, the juices are soaked up and the result is a thick sauce with an incredibly intense flavor.
In other countries, a casserole does not include a carbohydrate component, and the sauce tends to be thinner and more gravy-like. An American-style casserole would be called a bake or gratin in other regions of the world.
Is Lasagna A Casserole?
So, now for the key question: is a lasagna a casserole?!
If we’re going by the American definition, then yes, lasagna is a casserole! Admittedly it is a rather fancy kind of casserole, not a chuck-the-ingredients-in-and-let-it-bake sort of dish.
However, lasagna is a meal cooked in the oven with all the ingredients combined in one dish, which is the same as a casserole.
Some people might argue that lasagna is not a casserole as the different components need to be prepared separately first, and a casserole is normally a one-pot style of cooking.
The beef ragu and bechamel sauce are both cooked in separate pans, before being layered in the casserole dish with the lasagna sheets.
And if you went to other areas of the world and declared you were about to cook a lasagna casserole, you would get some very funny looks!
For example, in Europe, lasagna is more likely to be referred to as a pasta bake, rather than a casserole. They would expect a casserole to be more like what Americans refer to as a stew.
So, does that answer the question? There are so many variations in the definitions of cooking styles that we can’t come up with a definitive answer, but the closest we could get is that lasagna is a fancy casserole!
What we can tell you is that we are now all craving a hearty portion of a golden, bubbling lasagna!
Now that we’ve determined that lasagna could be considered a casserole, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
Are pasta and noodles the same thing?
Have you ever wondered if noodles are a type of pasta, or are they something different?
There are many similarities between pasta and noodles, and essentially, they are the same thing. But there are some subtle differences between pasta and noodles too.
Noodles are commonly made with softer, finer wheat than pasta, giving them a smooth and silky feel.
This means that they also cook faster than pasta. Pasta is made with harder durum wheat, which gives an elastic texture and firmer bite.
Pasta is normally unsalted and requires salt added to the cooking water. The dough used to make noodles is salted to help bind the dough and develop softer proteins.
What is lasagna sauce made of?
In a traditional Italian lasagna, the white sauce is a bechamel sauce, and the tomato-based sauce that the beef is cooked in is a ragu.
There are some variations on this, such as substituting ricotta for the bechamel sauce. Other people like to make a vegetarian lasagna by substituting the beef with lentils and other pulses.
A bechamel sauce is made by gently whisking flour into soft, melted butter (this is called a roux). This magical base is the key to thickening many types of sauces.
Over low heat, milk is gradually whisked into the roux, and it is simmered until it becomes thick and velvety.
Beef ragu is made by slow-cooking ground beef and vegetables in a liquid consisting of stock, wine, and tomatoes.
This is seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs such as sage, thyme, and oregano. A beef ragu should have a rich, intense flavor and a thick, glossy sauce.
If you’ve been wanting to make your own lasagna from scratch at home, here’s a great tutorial on how to do so!
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