Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I have a sort of sehnsucht for good lasagna. On Vancouver Island, pretty much any restaurant that advertises lasagna serves a wonderful concoction of pasta, rich brown meat sauce, and toasted cheese in a small casserole dish. What people cook and serve in their homes is more like the traditional lasagna you might find anywhere: a tomatoey, tangy sauce between somewhat dry layers of cheese and pasta.

When I left the Island, I realized that those lasagnas of my youth were in fact somewhat rare. I launched on a long quest to find lasagna, and ended up eating many cubes of layered tomato and pasta. I ordered lasagna in good Italian places, and got a very tangy, creamy, cheesey pile of noodles. The best lasagna I had of that sort was at Fontanella in Charlotte, NC.

But I was longing for the lasagnas of those elder days. The greatest of those is the lasagna of Romeo's Place in Nanaimo, Duncan, and Victoria.

But the key to my search was when I discovered Julianna Pizza and House of Pizza in Charlotte, NC. It was at Juliana that I first recognized a very important correlation, "Say, everywhere I find that makes the kind of lasagna I like is owned by Greeks..." And so I added a criterion to my list of lasagnas: only order lasagna where there is at least one picture of the Parthenon on the walls. I have yet to find a Greek-owned restaurant without at least a picture of the Parthenon on one wall and an ikon of the Theotokos on another.

When we moved back west, I took the opportunity of being back on the Island to revisit my lasagna haunts. Memory hadn't exaggerated the goodness: the lasagnas and baked ravioli were every bit as good as I had remembered.

So a couple months ago, I went out on a limb and googled "Greek meat sauce recipe". I was curious what I'd find. What do you know, I found some recipes for kima. It looked interesting, and got me to thinking...

For a couple months now, I've wondered if I'd been the victim of marketing. Although all the lasagnas I'd truly enjoyed were listed as "Italian Fare" in the menus of those Greek restaurants, what if they were actually Greek fare?

So yesterday, I googled "Greek meat sauce recipe" again, and picked what looked like a winner: http://www.grouprecipes.com/3403/greek-meat-sauce.html. It looked possible, so I decided to try it.

And while I was at it, I spent some time doing some "research" online, and found some interesting articles about Greek pasta dishes (here's one: http://www.in2greece.com/english/food/greek-pasta-dishes.html). And lo and behold, they claimed that pasta with meat sauce is extremely popular in Greece: they're eaten baked and steamed... like the pasta menu items at my favourite lasagna joints.

By now I was pretty sure I had figured it out: places like Romeo's were serving Greek pasta dishes and calling them "Italian Fare."

So last night I made the kima from that recipe. It ended up looking like this:
From Lasagna

That's promising. And the smell... it smells just like Romeo's...

Tonight we assembled it into some crocks we had bought to make onion soup (a story for another time). We used a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella, as we had asked one time what Romeo's uses to top their pastas:
From Lasagna

And we baked them long enough to put a little toast on that cheese:
From Lasagna

From Lasagna

The verdict? It's not Romeo's or San Marcos'. But it's very, very close. Like, we figured out how they make it and just need to tweak the recipe to taste.

This is a major breakthrough for me.


Shan said...

So impressed!

Gwen said...

I'm making it right now. I'm just waiting for the water to boil so I can get the lasagne started. It already smells wonderful. Thanks!