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    Recipe of the Week | Lasagna Puttanesca

    Lasagna Puttanesca | Photo Credit Randolph Graham

    A friend asked me the other day about the origin of lasagna. I told her I didn’t know so we looked it up online.  Here is the history of lasagna from Jamie Oliver’s blog:

    Modern lasagna is, of course, a by-product of Italian cuisine. There are a few theories as to how it was developed, and where the entomology of the word lasagna came to be. Like many Italian cultural and intellectual achievements, it can be traced down to ancient Greece.

Around 197 BCE the once mighty Greek empire fell at the onslaught of the Romans. This was largely in part due to the Romans advancements in weaponry, combined with their ability to emulate the special advantages of their opponents. The Romans used Greece tactics to eventual oust the empire. When Greece was successfully occupied, Rome made quick work adopting their philosophy, religion, science, mathematics, as well as its food and language.

    One of these newly espoused provisions was the idea of lasagna.

The main theory is that the term lasagna can be traced down to the Greek word laganon, which was a flat sheet of dough cut into strips. This term is still used in Greece to describe a thin flat type of bread. There is also lasanon, which refers to a sort of ancient crock-pot. The Romans borrowed this word and turned it into lasanum, which also means a sort of cooking pot. Therefore, the entomology of lasagna is believed to refer to the pot it was cooked in.

    She then asked if I ever made lasagna with Puttanesca sauce. I replied that I made a great Pasta Puttanesca but had not thought of making lasagna with it. “Now that we know the history of lasagna, let’s look up the history of Puttanesca” I said. We did so and found this history for Puttanesca sauce:

    Puttanesca sauce, most often employed for pasta, originated in Naples.  It is made from tomatoes, black olives, capers, anchovies, onions, garlic, and herbs, usually oregano and parsley but sometimes also basil.  It is an easy sauce, briefly cooked, and is very fragrant and spicy. 

    Puttanesca translates as “in the style of the whore.” The name derives from the Italian word puttana which means whore.  Puttana in turn arises from the Latin word putida which means stinking.

 Now I’ll bet your wondering how this tasty dish became associated with such sordid content.  As is often the case when sifting through culinary history, there are multiple explanations.  The first interpretation is that the intense aroma, (harking back to the “stinking” Latin definition), would lure men from the street into the local house of ill repute.  Thus, the Napolese harlots were characterized as the sirens of the culinary world.  Three additional accounts all hinge on the fact that Puttanesca sauce is easy and quick to make.  The first is that the prostitutes made it for themselves to keep the interruption of their business to a minimum.  The second is that they made it for the men awaiting their turn at the brothel.  And the final version is that it was a favorite of married women who wished to limit their time in the kitchen so that they may visit their paramour. 

    If you like my vegetarian Pasta Puttanesca, you’ll love this lasagna with vegetarian Puttanesca sauce (no anchovies). And don’t worry because it doesn’t stink. It does, however, smell amazing and will fill your kitchen with wonderful aromas.



    5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

    16 ounces uncooked lasagna noodles

    1 medium onion (chopped fine)

    1 medium eggplant (diced into ½ inch cubes)

    5 large garlic cloves (minced)

    1 cup pitted Kalamata olives (sliced in half lengthwise)

    3 tablespoons capers (drained)

    2   28-ounce cans fire roasted crushed tomatoes (do not drain)

    2 cups ricotta cheese

    2 eggs

    2 tablespoons fresh basil (chopped)

    1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (grated)

    16 ounces whole milk mozzarella (thinly sliced)

    Salt and pepper to taste



    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

    In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the lasagna noodles until they just start to soften, four to five minutes. Drain, transfer to a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil. Cover with kitchen towel to keep moist. Set aside.

    In a large saucepan, heat two tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, five minutes. Add the eggplant and the remaining three tablespoons of oil; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for three minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Stir in the olives, capers and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until the sauce is thickened – about 12 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    In a separate bowl, stir the ricotta with the eggs and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Spread 1½ cups of the Puttanesca sauce in the baking dish. Top with five lasagna noodles and spread with half of the ricotta and 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Top with another layer of noodles, half of the remaining sauce and 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Arrange another layer of noodles on top and spread with the remaining ricotta. Repeat with a final layer of noodles and the remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.

    Cover with foil and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and uncover. Arrange the mozzarella slices over the top and bake for 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving. 

    Note: Make the day before and keep refrigerated until ready to bake.

    Chef Randy’s latest book: Ojai Valley Quarantine Cookbook Now available on Amazon!

    For additional recipes, see Chef Randy’s website at

    Chef Randy has been a vegetarian for over 40 years and eats local and organic grain, fresh fruit, and vegetables as much as possible. He is known locally as the “Healthy Chef.” His column, Chef Randy, is syndicated in California newspapers. See his website at for more recipes.


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