Spice is king in making cheese and fruit lasagna the way it had been served in 1492. Here’s one way to use those healthy autumn snacking apples on Columbus Day. Prepare a 1492 Catalunian-Italian-Spanish-style apple lasagna according to a recipe frequently used throughout Europe in 1492. Perhaps the familiar, hearty cool weather main meal probably had been eaten by Columbus or his peers throughout Northern Italy, Catalunia, and the Barcelona area of Spain.
The meal usually is prepared with apples, golden raisins, pine nuts, cinammon, figs, and cheese layered between baked lasanga noodles. It’s a medieval version combining cheese lasagna layered with baked fruit and nuts. In modern times, you’ll probably find this dish has moved to Southern Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia. Here’s how to make it for Columbus Day. The recipe feeds a big family or a Columbus Day dinner party.
Spiced Apple Cheese Lasagna with Pignola Nuts
10 sheets of broad noodles (lasagna)
7 1/2 cups of water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock in which to boil the lasagne pasta until al dente tender
pinch of ground cardamom
pinch of ground cinannamon
pinch of white pepper
1/2 cup of pine nuts (pignola nuts) slightly browned in olive oil. If pine nuts cost too much for your budget, substitute lightly browned hulled sunflower seeds instead.
pinch of ground cloves
oil for greasing the lasagna pan
5 sliced, peeled apples
6 to 8 ounces of grated hard cheese such as Cheddar, Parmesan, Mozarella, Swiss, or any other hard cheese that melts well.
Square or oblong lasagne pan that supports three layers of pasta layered with cheese and sliced apples.
Bring the water or stock to a boil, and boil the lasagne until it’s al dente tender. You can cook the pasta in three or four batches so it doesn’t stick together.
Boil the sliced apples and golden raisins and any other dried fruit you want to add just as chopped figs, for a minute in heated water until they are tender to chew, but not overcooked. Drain in a strainer. Toss the apples together with cinammon, cloves, cardomom, white pepper, golden raisins, and slighty browned pignola nuts or slightly browned in oil sunflower seeds. The cooked apples should be coated with the spices, cooked raisins, and nuts.
Remove the sheets of lasagne with tongs. Put the lasagne sheets on a damp, clean towel or parchment paper on a flat surface. Lay the lasagne flat side by side.
Oil the inside of your lasagne pan with olive oil or any other kind of oil or butter you choose. On the bottom of the pan, you’ll sprinkle your mixture of spices and about 1/4 of your cheese. You can mix several types of cheese such as grated cheddar, parmesan, mozarella, or any other combination of cheeses or just use one type of hard cheese, according to your preferences in cheese tastes. The cheese should melt well and be a hard cheese.
Cover the cheese and mixture of spices with a layer of pasta. Trim the pasta to fit the dish, if necessary. Repeat the layers of spice. But this time add the apples mixed with the raisins, spices, and lightly browned pine nuts on the bottom and the cheese on top. Keep repeating the layers of spice, apples and raisins with pignola nuts or sunflower seeds, cheese on top of the apples, and pasta twice.
End your top layer with a layer of spice and apples with cheese on the top of the apples. Now that everything is layered in the pan. Put the meal in the oven and heat it once more until it’s comfortably hot to taste. Your outcome should be a lasagne made up of melted hard cheese on top of tender, cooked sliced, peeled apples that have been tossed in spices, golden raisins, and pine nuts or sunflower seeds. Serve warm. Serves six.
This traditional 15th-century feast has a hint of the Moorish influence in Spain and southern Italy. It’s Catalunian and Northen Italian in nature, though, by the late 15th century, when the spice trade brought new influences to cooking, and lasagne since the days of Marco Polo influenced the art of mixing lasagne dishes as well as rice-based dishes with nuts and spices, particularly pignola or pine nuts that usually are fried in oil until slightly browned and added to rice dishes or lasagna, and especially served with meat-based meals.
Raisins often were seasoned with spices and served in pomegranate or cherry and raisin sauces poured over meats, especially in the Mediterranean areas where the pomegranates grew. In areas where there were no pomegranates, cherries and raisins were turned into a sauce and drizzled on poultry or meat dishes.
For numerous medieval recipes made with modern ingredients, check out an excellent book, The Medieval Cookbook, by Maggie Black. This book also features another cheddar cheese lasagna recipe but without the apples and nuts. The book also features wonderful recipes from the 14th and 15th centuries including recipes for fried fig pastries, cream custard tarts, and mushroom pasties from Northern Europe, especially England and France.
For a change of venue, try some 15th century European recipes made with modern ingredients for your holiday season. Or if you’re looking for some recipes for Columbus Day from the 1492 era, also check out the following Renaissance era cookbooks for recipes of that era you can make with modern ingredients.
Renaissance Cookbook: Historical Perspectives through Cookery by Berengario. DELLE CINQUETERRE (Hardcover – Jan 1, 1975)
Photo credits – AltiusDirectory – Society – Columbus Day Clip Art