One of America’s Favorites – Lasagne

June 3, 2019 at 6:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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Baked meat lasagne

Lasagne are a type of wide, flat pasta, possibly one of the oldest types of pasta. Lasagne, or the singular lasagna, commonly refers to a culinary dish made with stacked layers of pasta alternated with sauces and ingredients such as meats, vegetables and cheese, and sometimes topped with melted grated cheese. Typically, the cooked pasta is assembled with the other ingredients and then baked in an oven. The resulting lasagne casserole is cut into single-serving square portions.

Lasagne originated in Italy during the Middle Ages and has traditionally been ascribed to the city of Naples. The first recorded recipe was set down in the early 14th-century Liber de Coquina (The Book of Cookery). It bore only a slight resemblance to the later traditional form of lasagne, featuring a fermented dough flattened into a thin sheet, boiled, sprinkled with cheese and spices, and then eaten with the use of a small pointed stick. Recipes written in the century following the Liber de Coquina recommended boiling the pasta in chicken broth and dressing it with cheese and chicken fat. In a recipe adapted for the Lenten fast, walnuts were recommended.

The traditional lasagne of Naples, lasagne di carnevale, is layered with local sausage, small fried meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, and sauced with a Neapolitan ragù, a meat sauce. Lasagne al forno, layered with a thicker ragù and Béchamel sauce, and corresponding to the most common version of the dish outside Italy, is traditionally associated with the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. In other regions, lasagne can be made with various combinations of ricotta or mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, meats (e.g., ground beef, pork or chicken), and vegetables (e.g., spinach, zucchini, olives, mushrooms), and the dish is typically flavoured with wine, garlic, onion, and oregano. In all cases, the lasagne is oven-baked (al forno).

Traditionally, pasta dough prepared in Southern Italy used semolina and water; in the northern regions, where semolina was not available, flour and eggs were used. In modern Italy, since the only type of wheat allowed for commercially sold pasta is durum wheat, commercial lasagne are made of semolina from durum wheat.

Emilia-Romagna’s intensive farming economy in the northern region of Italy results in plentiful dairy and meat products, and a commonality in regional cooking – more so than the olive oil found in southern regions of Italy. Pastas from Emilia-Romagna and its capital, Bologna, are almost always served with a ragù, a thick sauce made from ingredients such as onions, carrots, finely ground pork and beef, celery, butter, and tomatoes.

Slice of lasagne with green salad and red cherry tomatoes

In Ancient Rome, there was a dish similar to a traditional lasagne called lasana or lasanum (Latin for ‘container’ or ‘pot’) described in the book De re coquinaria by Marcus Gavius Apicius, but the word could have a more ancient origin. The first theory is that lasagne comes from Greek λάγανον (laganon), a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips. The word λαγάνα (lagana) is still used in Greek to mean a flat thin type of unleavened bread baked for the holiday Clean Monday.

Another theory is that the word lasagne comes from the Greek λάσανα (lasana) or λάσανον (lasanon) meaning ‘trivet’, ‘stand for a pot’ or ‘chamber pot’. The Romans borrowed the word as lasanum, meaning ‘cooking pot’. The Italians used the word to refer to the cookware in which lasagne is made. Later, the food took on the name of the serving dish.

Another proposed link, or reference, is the 14th-century English dish loseyn as described in The Forme of Cury, a cookbook prepared by “the chief Master Cooks of King Richard II”, which included English recipes as well as dishes influenced by Spanish, French, Italian, and Arab cuisines. This dish has similarities to modern lasagne in both its recipe, which features a layering of ingredients between pasta sheets, and its name. An important difference is the lack of tomatoes, which did not arrive in Europe until after Columbus reached America in 1492. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in a herbal written in 1544 by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, while the earliest cookbook found with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, but the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources.

As with most other types of pasta, the Italian word is a plural form: lasagne meaning more than one sheet of lasagna, though in many other languages a derivative of the singular word lasagna is used for the popular baked pasta dish. Regional usage in Italy, when referring to the baked dish, favours the plural form lasagne in the north of the country and the singular lasagna in the south. The former, plural usage has influenced the usual spelling found in British English, while the southern Italian, singular usage has influenced the spelling often used in American English.

 

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One of America’s Favorites – Michigan Hot Dog

January 28, 2019 at 6:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | 4 Comments
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Michigan Hot Dog

A Michigan hot dog, or simply “Michigan”, is a steamed hot dog on a steamed bun topped with a meaty sauce, generally referred to as “Michigan sauce”. The sauce may be tomato-based, depending on where the Michigan is purchased. Michigans can be served with chopped onions. If served with onions, the onions can either be buried under the sauce, under the hot dog itself, or sprinkled on top of the sauce.

Michigans are particularly popular in the North Country of New York State, and have been so for many decades. Their popularity soon spread to New York City where they remain a fast food staple. One of the earliest known advertisements for Michigans appeared in the Friday, May 27, 1927, Plattsburgh Daily Republican.

Michigans are also very popular in Montreal and other parts of Quebec, where the sauce is often tomato-based. Lafleur Restaurants, a Quebec fast food chain, is known for its Michigans and poutine.

Oddly enough, “Michigan hot dogs” are never referred to by that name in Michigan itself, nor anywhere else in the Midwest. A similar food item, the Coney Island hot dog or “Coney dog”, is natural-casing beef or beef and pork European-style Frankfurter Würstel (Vienna sausage) of German origin having a natural lamb or sheep casing, and topped with a beef heart-based Coney sauce. Conversely, the “Coney Island” is not referred to as such on Coney Island, or anywhere else in New York State, instead called either a “Michigan” or a “Red Hot.”

There is no consensus on the origin of the Michigan. Although there are many different varieties of Michigan sauce available today, the original Michigan sauce was possibly created by George Todoroff in Jackson, Michigan. The sauce was originally created to be used as a topping on Coney Island hot dogs. In 1914, Mr. Todoroff founded the Jackson Coney Island restaurant and created his Coney Island chili sauce recipe. He retired in 1945.

How and when Michigan sauce arrived in upstate New York is somewhat of a mystery. The earliest known advertisement for Michigans appeared in the Friday, May 27, 1927, Plattsburgh Daily Republican. The ad announced the opening of “the Michigan Hot-Dog Stand Tuesday May 24, located between the two dance halls”. That hot dog stand may be the same one mentioned in the Plattsburgh Sentinel on Sept. 16, 1927, as being owned by a Mr. Garth C. Otis:

“Garth C. Otis has leased the quarters in the Plattsburgh Theatre building formerly occupied as the Locomobile salesroom in which place he will conduct an eating place under the name of the Michigan Hot Dog and Sandwich Shop opening Saturday. Mexican chili con carne will be one of the specialties. Mr. Otis promises a first class place for those who desire short order lunches.”

The origin of the “Michigan” name may have come from Plattsburgh residents Jack Rabin and his wife, who fell in love with the Jackson Coney Island hot dog while vacationing in Coney Island and subsequently recreated the sauce at Nitzi’s, their Michigan hot dog stand on Route 9 just outside Plattsburgh. However, a 1984 Sentinel article indicates that Nitzi’s was established in 1935, and says Jack Rabin indicated “his sauce came from Mrs. Eula Otis, who first coined the name ‘Michigans’ for her hot dog and sauce.” Otis was originally from Nashville and met her husband in Detroit, Michigan, where she learned to make meat sauce. They moved to Plattsburgh in the 1920s.

The Nitzi/Otis recipe is currently in use at Michigans Plus, located in the former IHOP building on Route 3.

In Vermont, the Michigan dog is almost always split and cooked on a grill before the meat sauce onions and mustard are added. Often, the bun (or a slice of bread) is also grilled. The first ones sold around the Burlington area were called Charlie’s Red Hots and the small shop was started during World War II by a well-known and respected restaurateur. The family closely guarded the sauce recipe. The originals are no longer sold, but there are many Michigan copies around and many local families claim to have the “Charlie’s” sauce recipe.

 

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