The first known reference to lasagna dates back to Medieval Italy. It was quite different from the well-known dish of today. For starters, there were no tomatoes in Italy at that time and therefore no tomato sauce. Instead the noodles were simply topped with grated hard cheeses and spices. The second large difference is in the noodles themselves. They were cut into squares, about 2 inches by 2 inches. And the dough that produces the noodles was distinctly different from modern pasta dough. It was fermented with naturally occurring yeasts just as breads of the time were, also referred to as naturally leavened. This gives the lasagna noodles a much different texture due to the gasses produced during the rising process.
Now I understand most people are not willing to create a historically accurate version of this, especially since it takes months to cultivate a proper fermented starter dough. However, I must say, the results are unique and impressive. So I have come up with a recipe that uses modern dried yeast to provide leavening. Although the complexity of flavor that comes with a long-term fermentation can not be duplicated, it does give the pasta the same texture.
I do encourage you to try these noodles simply dressed with some of the boiled pasta water, grated cheese and spices. But the recipe that follows is a blend of old and new. It uses a modern tomato sauce and cooks up perfectly in your toaster oven. The close proximity of a toaster oven’s heating elements perfectly browns the gooey cheese.
1.5 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of warm (but not hot) water
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of active dry yeast
1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce
1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese
Combine the yeast and water in a large mixing bowl. Set aside for ten minutes to allow the yeast to “wake up.” Add the flour and sea salt and stir well. Knead until elastic; this should take about fifteen minutes by hand or three minutes in a stand mixer or food processor fitted with a dough blade. Return the dough to the mixing bowl and cover with a towel. Leave in a warm, dark place until doubled in size; this should take about an hour.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Place the dough on a well-floured board and gently roll it until it is the thickness of a nickel. Dust with flour, then cut into 2 inch squares with either a pizza cutter or chef’s knife. Boil, stirring constantly, until the pasta squares rise to the top of the pot.
Place 1/3 of the noodles into a greased baking dish. Top with 1/3 of the jar of sauce followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat this procedure twice, then top with the parmesan cheese.
Heat your toaster oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until the cheese melts and the lasagna is thoroughly heated; this should take about 40 minutes.