Lasagne used to be my favourite dish when I was young. Whenever my mother used to ask what I wanted for a special treat, birthday for example, my response always used to be the same. Mostly it was reserved for weekends, for celebratory occasions like Christmas or Easter or a birthday here and there.
When it was served on midweek, it used to somehow lose its allure and I could never understand why. Today, I love to cook lasagne and there are many reasons for this. First it is the ultimate comfort food, it is therapeutic to make a ragu and wait for hours, process after process to get it right and extract the most possible flavour from the meat. Second, the children love it and there is always leftovers which works particularly well for a midweek treat.
But why was lasagne less attractive when it was prepared during the week? Was it just memory playing tricks or was there really something to it?
I couldn’t pin it down to anything until I read Massimo Bottura’s reasoning behind his dish The Crunchy Part of the Lasagne. Osteria Francescana, the world’s number 1 restaurant needs no introduction but it is the least place you would expect to find lasagne served. But just the memory of the dish at his restaurant is enough to give you goosebumps.
He says that Italians grow up eating lasagne. There is no season, nor occasion that does not merit lasagne. He recalls that when he was young, he was notorious for stealing the edges of the tasted top layer, which he considered the best part, before the pan left the kitchen.
And there was the answer. On Sunday’s my sister and I used to be running in and out of the kitchen, not necessarily assisting our mother in her Sunday lunch preparations but tasting, trying before things were served at table. And it was always a joy to eat the crunchy part of the lasagne or of another traditional Maltese dish called Mqarrun (baked pasta).
We would get scolded by our mother for ‘ruining’ her creation before it was served at table but that taste of the crunchy part of the pasta just coming out of the oven was unforgettable. Like a crisp, it was the perfect appetiser for what was to come.
And that feeling could never be replicated during the week when the dish would have been prepared and cooked while we were at school or outside the kitchen.
At his restaurant, Bottura, who is notorious for using childhood memories to trigger emotions in his guests, uses the best part of the lasagne to construct a whole dish which transports you back to your childhood. It is the ultimate in childhood memories.