When I was a teen and a senior in high school, I had the zany idea of trying to find the perfect lasagna. I searched high and low, going to restaurants all over the tri-county area and even sampling homemade lasagnas. I quickly found out that everybody makes their lasagna a little different yet each person thinks their lasagna is the best. What was I looking for in the perfect lasagna?
- Traditional – no spinach or other nonstandard ingredients. No top-chef “plays” on traditional lasagna. Just pasta, cheese and meat sauce with the correct ratio of seasonings, done with authenticity. I guess Lasagne alla Bolognese would be the closest authentic equivalent to what I was looking for.
- Al dente pasta – no tough pieces of lasagna pasta; no exposed burned pieces of pasta, no overly mushy pasta.
- Baked, not microwaved, stove-topped or done in some other manner.
- Use high quality tomatoes – I should not be able to detect that tinny taste of cheap canned tomatoes, nor should the tomatoes used be “pre-seasoned” with all sorts of herbs and spices. Canned Italian tomatoes are ideal, or the proper fresh ones.
- Fresh cheese; not that highly salted jarred stuff and not the cheap rubberized tasteless stuff from the deli case either.
- Meat – should not be cheap hamburger, nor should it all be sweet Italian sausage…there must be a balance.
We met a friend at Macaroni Grill the other night. I was talking and not paying attention to the menu and found myself being the last to order with everyone watching…so I got the “Trio” dinner of Caesar salad, Layers of Lasagna and the lemon cake. The lasagna here was a big disappointment – Macaroni Grill used to have some really good lasagna & meatballs, but this stuff was textbook below-average: sloppy lasagna noodles cooked to the point of disintegration, pepperoni slices intermingled in the layers, sausage with a tough casing intact, oversauced yet dry…and salty. Yuck!
Besides the Macaroni Layers of Lasagna, one other thing that makes me shudder is when I hear the words “make ahead lasagna”…that is almost an automatic disqualification in my book – because it typically means the pasta will be overcooked. Having said that, I recall that I only found one lasagna which passed muster after sampling dozens of them. The winner came from a place called Santa’s in Debary, FL. This place was decorated with Christmas stuff and it was really cheesy (pardon the pun) – I have not been there in ages but the lasagna was served in oblong dish and it had all of the hallmarks of a great dish of lasagna – fresh bechamel, perfect pasta, good tomatoes and sauce, balanced meat and spices…
Ever since those younger days when I went out looking for lasagna (!), I have not been too keen on lasagna…perhaps because I burned myself out on it, or discovered that there are many better things to be had in Italian restaurants. From what I have seen, NONE of the chain places have good lasagna and not many of the privately owned restaurants have passable lasagna either. I wonder if there are any good lasagna’s out there today?