I grew up in a classic east coast Italian American family. My grandparents emigrated from southern Italy to the suburbs of NYC as teenagers, had a sort of arranged marriage and raised their children in the town where I grew up. I didn’t know it then, but now I realize that many of the family friends had also come from the same town as my grandparents-Calitri in the Avellino province of Campania.
I consider myself lucky to have grown up eating homemade pasta just about every week. Our Sunday afternoon lunches were the stuff that dreams are made of. If I were to be asked what is the best meal I’ve ever eaten, it would have to be at one these gatherings with my family. I have the fondest of memories of my grandmother’s ravioli, “loggins” (a very tender wide noodle) and “jingles” (my absolute favorite, which were cavatelli), but I can’t really remember eating lasagna. When I think of lasagna, I think of eating this at home, made by my mother.
Of course, my mother probably learned her lasagna from my grandmother. The first step was to make the big pot of “gravy”-sausage, meatballs, braciole (beef rolled and stuffed with herbs and grated cheese), and maybe pork, simmered for hours in a tomato sauce. My mother then took the meatballs and sausage and broke them into pieces and used this to fill the layers of her lasagna, along with ricotta and mozzarella and gravy. The perfect bite had a little bit of meatball, some sausage and the cheese.
I probably have four or five different lasagnas that I make, depending on my mood. I do one with a bolognese sauce and bechamel, one with ground turkey and gruyere, another with vegetables, one with a mushroom sauce and one more with artichokes and a white sauce. This week I didn’t even have to think about it. I wanted my mother’s classic lasagna and that’s what I made for our Sunday dinner. It was just as I remember from growing up and if I must say so myself, it was pretty close to my mom’s!