Lasagne di carnevale

Lasagne di carnevale
  • Main
  • medium
  • 10
  • 5 hours, plus overnight for the ricotta to drain


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Unlike most Italian cities, whose iconic carnival dishes tend to be fried and sweet, Naples has a carnival lasagna. Many historical and social factors have led to this exception. Suffice to say that this is an abundant and hunger-busting dish – made with pasta layered with all sorts of meaty and cheesy delights, so rich that it satiates after just a few bites, and yet so good that it lures the eater into seconds and then thirds – it is for the Neapolitans the embodiment of excess. Carnival excess, no less: the kind of excess that most, so often concerned with financial and food restrictions, could only dream of once a year, over a festivity for which guiltless, oblivious gluttony was not just contemplated, but widely encouraged.

There are many differences between this Neapolitan lasagna and the most widely known lasagne emiliane. First, the pasta: not your usual fresh egg pasta but dry durum wheat pasta sheets, as they are better at sustaining the weight of the sauce. Then, the inclusion of ricotta – either from cow’s or sheep’s milk, or a mix – and caciocavallo cheese, eggs and salami. Also, the tiny meatballs, moreish and playful, made with veal and pork mince. And finally, the ragù: not the ragù alla Bolognese, of course, but a variant of the Neapolitan ragù made with just pork meat layered with the rest of the ingredients.

Heat half of the olive oil in a large saucepan set over a low heat. Add the lard and allow it to melt. Add the onion, carrot and celery, frying gently until the vegetables are very soft for approximately 20 minutes, stirring often
Add the ribs and the sausages and brown them on all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the tomatoes and lower the heat to the lowest setting. Cover and cook for about 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be thick and smooth, and the oil should have formed a layer on the surface. Put the meat back into the pan and finish cooking the sauce and meat together for 30 minutes. Season to taste
While the sauce is cooking, make the meatballs. Combine the veal and pork mince with the grated pecorino, the eggs and the bread. Use the mixture to make small meatballs, about the size of a grape. Preheat a frying pan with the remaining olive oil and fry the meatballs. Drain them on paper towels
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 5
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Parboil the lasagne sheets, a few at a time, for a few minutes, until softened but not cooked through. Drain and set in a single layer on clean tea towels
Take a large dish and spread a spoonful of the tomato ragù over the base. Add a layer of pasta sheets, scatter over some ricotta, cover with a little more ragù and dot with some cubed caciocavallo, salami and the egg slices. Keep layering in this fashion, making sure not to put too much in each layer – you're aiming for 5 layers of each ingredient. Finish the dish with a layer of ragù and a dusting of grated pecorino
Cook the lasagne for 25–30 minutes. Finish under a hot grill for 3-5 minutes, to form a crunchy crust. Remove the lasagne from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes
To serve, cut into slices and top with more grated cheese. The leftover ragù meat can be served as a secondo with seasonal greens
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