Angelina’s Lasagna di Carnevale (Lasagna for Carnival)

Lasagna di carnevale

Among Angelina’s generation, each of the female family members had a special dish that she was known for. My great-aunt, Angelina’s sister, who we called zi’-zi’ (loosely translated, ‘auntie’), was the ravioli specialist. Another great-aunt, zi’ Annin’,  was known as “the little pie-maker” and yet another specialized in calzone pugliese, which we used to call ‘onion pie’. Angelina, on the other hand, was known for her lasagna, which was almost always a part of our ritual Sunday dinners at her place.

It was only later in life that I realized that the lasagna that Angelina made had a name, and was not really her lasagna, but a traditional dish from Campania, the region where she was born. There the dish is called lasagna di carnevale (also called lasagne di carnevale in the plural) since this meaty lasagna is traditionally eaten around Carnevale aka Mardi Gras time, as a last meat ‘splurge’ before the privations of Lent—a vestige of the days when Catholics were expected to give up meat for the entire 40 days. As I have mentioned before, this lasagna is one of the two ‘mother’ lasagna dishes in Italian cuisine, the rustic southern cousin to the North’s elegant lasagne alla bolognese. Since most Italian immigrants to the US came from the South, it is this lasagna that will be most familiar to Italian-Americans.

Angelina’s lasagna did have some subtle differences from the classic recipe, which I will point out later. But here is the way she made her lasagna:

Ingredients

For one large lasagna, enough to feed a crowd

For the ricotta cream:

  • 250g (8 oz) ricotta cheese
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • A sprig or two of fresh parsley, finely minced
  • Salt and pepper
For topping:
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil

Directions

Step 1: Make the ragù: This step should be done the day before, both because the ragù itself takes several hours to cook and because it tastes much better the next day. Angelina always used her signature ragù della domenica or Sunday sauce. Make sure that the ragù is not too thick—it should be quite loose—loose enough to pour easily—to account for evaporation as the dish bakes. Dilute with water if need be.

Ragu

Step 2: Make the pasta: While lasagna di carnevale can be made with factory-made hard durum wheat lasagna, Angelina usually made her own fresh egg pasta (see this post for instructions). Unlike the pasta for lasagne alla bolognese, however, for this rustic dish you need to roll out your pasta rather thicker than usual; use setting ’4′ on most pasta machines. And I like to add a heaping spoonful of semolina flour for each 100g/1 cup of “OO” flour, to give the pasta a bit more ‘bite’. Cut the pasta into large sheets that will fit into your baking pan. (I usually make mine big enough so that two sheets of lasagna will cover the entire pan.)

 Step 3: Make the polpettine: The lasagna is stuffed with, among other things, polpettine, or little tiny meatballs. You should use the same mixture of beef, pork, cheese, bread and seasonings as you would for polpettone, or Italian meatloaf (see this post for the recipe) but make the meatballs just as small as you possibly can, no more than 2-3cm/1 inch round, at most, smaller if you can manage it, remembering that they will be placed between the lasagna layers. Then shallow fry them in light olive oil until just golden brown. The recipe for zitoni al forno con le polpettine, or baked ziti, gives details on how to make these little meatballs.

 Step 4: Fry the sausage (optional): In a classic lasagna di carnevale, the stuffing also includes long, thin sausages called cervellatine. They don’t make them outside Campania, as far as I know. If you don’t have them, you can either omit them and just use more meatballs, or cut up some ‘sweet’ Italian sausages and fry them in olive oil. (Or just slice up some of the sausages from the ragù.)

Step 5: Make the ricotta cream and cut up the mozzarella.  Mix all the ricotta cream ingredients well in a mixing bowl with a spatula. 

 Take a large ball of fiordilatte (mozzarella made from cow’s milk) and cut it into cubes. (NB: This is one dish where expensive imported mozzarella di bufala is not really necessary or even ideal.)

Crema di ricotta

Step 6: Cook the pasta sheets: Cook the lasagna sheets al dente, remembering that they will cook again in the oven. Since these sheets are thicker than the usual pasta and contain a bit of semolina, however, you will need to cook them for longer than other types of fresh pasta, say around 3-5 minutes, depending on how long they have been left to dry. If using factory-made pasta, follow the directions on the box. Do not crowd the lasagna or they may stick together; you may have to cook them in batches. When done, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and pat dry with a towel, taking care not to burn yourself with the hot water that will cling to the pasta sheets.

First Layer

Step 7: Assemble the dish: In a large baking or ‘lasagna’ dish, which you will have greased with lard or olive oil, spread a bit of the ragù over the bottom. Then cover the bottom with a layer of pasta. Since these pasta sheets are rather thick, avoid overlapping them. (You may have to trim the pasta with a knife or a pair of scissors, but that’s fine.) Then cover the pasta with a generous layer of ragù. Top the ragù with the polpettine and, if using, the sausage pieces, and then with dabs of the ricotta cream here and there. (You can add more grated cheese if you like, but in Angelina’s version, there is ample grated cheese in the ricotta cream.) Then place another layer of pasta and repeat, until you’ve used up your ingredients. Top with a generous dusting of grated parmesan cheese and a nice layer of ragù. Drizzle with olive oil.

Step 8: Bake the lasagna: Bake your lasagna in a moderately hot oven (180C, 350F) for about 45 minutes, until the top is just beginning to brown. (Some like a nice crusty top, but I don’t and neither did Angelina.)

Step 9: Serving the lasagna: When done, remove the lasagna from the oven and allow to settle and cool for at least 30 minutes. In fact, Angelina almost always made her lasagna ahead and reheated it gently, which gave it a rather firm texture and allowed the flavors to meld beautifully. I still like it better that way.

Notes

As mentioned above, Angelina’s version varies in a few details from the classic lasagna di carnevale as found in the ‘old country’. First, she always used fresh pasta made from soft flour, while it more usual to use hard-wheat pasta. In fact, according to J.C. Francesconi, author of the much respected La cucina napoletana, hard wheat pasta is actually preferable. Second, she used her ragù della domenica, made from pork ribs and sausages, while the traditional lasagna di carnevale, according to Francesconi, has a somewhat different ragù, made from a single piece of pork roast and some pancetta. And some folks prefer a lighter ragù, cooked only for a few hours, rather than the dark ragù, cooked for six hours or more, that Angelina used. Third, Angelina used the ricotta cream described above, mixed with parmesan and egg, while the usual traditional recipes call for ricotta only, or sometimes loosened with some water. milk or ragù.

And one thing that distinguished Angelina’s lasagna from most Italian-American lasagna you will find: she was very discreet in her use of cheese. Most Italian-American lasagna comes oozing with ricotta and mozzarella. Angelina’s was all about the ragù. And her use of a ricotta cream mixed with egg gave it a different, firmer texture. (There is, by the way, a delicious Neapolitan lasagna dish called lasagna alla ricotta, where cheese is the ‘star’, but that is a different matter.)

There are subtle variations also in the way that the lasagna can be assembled. Some recipes (including Francesconi’s) call for covering the pasta first with the ricotta, then adding the other cheeses and the meats, and lastly napping the whole with ragù. Other recipes call for mixing equal parts of ricotta and ragù together and layering this mixture on the pasta.

Francesconi also cites an interesting variation from Pozzuoli (a coastal town near Naples) where they add cut up bits of the local salami rather than the traditional cervatelline sausages and include hard-boiled eggs sliced into wedges. This is the version that is set out in another favorite cookbook, Napoli in bocca by Antonella Santolini. And in another delightful Neapolitan cookbook, Cucina napoletana: ricette raccontate, Martinella Penta de Peppo suggests using beef, rather than the more traditional pork, as a ‘lighter’ alternative for making the ragù. Rather than little meatballs and sausage, she suggests stuffing the lasagna with slices of the meat from the ragù rather than the usual meatballs and sausage, together with ricotta (loosened with a bit of water), ragù, mozzarella and grated parmesan cheese.

Angelina’s Lasagna di Carnevale (Lasagna for Carnival)

Rating: 51

Total Time: 4 hours

Yield: One large lasagna, enough for a crowd

Angelina’s Lasagna di Carnevale (Lasagna for Carnival)

Ingredients

  • One batch of ragù della domenica (Sunday Sauce)
  • One batch of fresh egg pasta, made with 4 eggs
  • One batch of little meatballs
  • 3 or 4 Italian sausages (not spicy)
  • 1 large ball of mozzarella
  • For the ricotta cream:
  • 250g (8 oz) ricotta cheese
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 100g (3-1/2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • A sprig or two of fresh parsley, finely minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • For topping:
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Make the ragù: This step should be done the day before, both because the ragù itself takes several hours to cook and because it tastes much better the next day. Angelina always used her signature ragù della domenica or Sunday sauce. Make sure that the ragù is not too thick—it should be quite loose—loose enough to pour easily—to account for evaporation as the dish bakes. Dilute with water if need be.
  2. Make the pasta: While lasagna di carnevale can be made with factory-made hard durum wheat lasagna, Angelina usually made her own fresh egg pasta (see this post for instructions). Unlike the pasta for lasagne alla bolognese, however, for this rustic dish you need to roll out your pasta rather thicker than usual; use setting '4' on most pasta machines. And I like to add a heaping spoonful of semolina flour for each 100g/1 cup of "OO" flour, to give the pasta a bit more 'bite'. Cut the pasta into large sheets that will fit into your baking pan. (I usually make mine big enough so that two sheets of lasagna will cover the entire pan.)
  3. Make the polpettine: The lasagna is stuffed with, among other things, polpettine, or little tiny meatballs. You should use the same mixture of beef, pork, cheese, bread and seasonings as you would for polpettone, or Italian meatloaf (see this post for the recipe) but make the meatballs just as small as you possibly can, no more than 2-3cm/1 inch round, at most, smaller if you can manage it, remembering that they will be placed between the lasagna layers. Then shallow fry them in light olive oil until just golden brown. The recipe for zitoni al forno con le polpettine, or baked ziti, gives details on how to make these little meatballs.
  4. Fry the sausage (optional): In a classic lasagna di carnevale, the stuffing also includes long, thin sausages called cervellatine. They don't make them outside Campania, as far as I know. If you don't have them, you can either omit them and just use more meatballs, or cut up some 'sweet' Italian sausages and fry them in olive oil. (Or just slice up some of the sausages from the ragù.)
  5. Make the ricotta cream and cut up the mozzarella. Mix all the ricotta cream ingredients well in a mixing bowl with a spatula. Take a large ball of fiordilatte (mozzarella made from cow's milk) and cut it into cubes.
  6. Cook the pasta sheets: Cook the lasagna sheets al dente, remembering that they will cook again in the oven. Since these sheets are thicker than the usual pasta and contain a bit of semolina, however, you will need to cook them for longer than other types of fresh pasta, say around 3-5 minutes, depending on how long they have been left to dry. If using factory-made pasta, follow the directions on the box. Do not crowd the lasagna or they may stick together; you may have to cook them in batches. When done, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and pat dry with a towel, taking care not to burn yourself with the hot water that will cling to the pasta sheets.
  7. Assemble the dish: In a large baking or 'lasagna' dish, which you will have greased with lard or olive oil, spread a bit of the ragù over the bottom. Then cover the bottom with a layer of pasta. Since these pasta sheets are rather thick, avoid overlapping them. (You may have to trim the pasta with a knife or a pair of scissors, but that's fine.) Then cover the pasta with a generous layer of ragù. Top the ragù with the polpettine and, if using, the sausage pieces, and then with dabs of the ricotta cream here and there. (You can add more grated cheese if you like, but in Angelina's version, there is ample grated cheese in the ricotta cream.) Then place another layer of pasta and repeat, until you've used up your ingredients. Top with a generous dusting of grated parmesan cheese and a nice layer of ragù. Drizzle with olive oil.
  8. Bake the lasagna: Bake your lasagna in a moderately hot oven (180C, 350F) for about 45 minutes, until the top is just beginning to brown.
  9. Step 9: Serving the lasagna: When done, remove the lasagna from the oven and allow to settle and cool for at least 30 minutes. In fact, Angelina almost always made her lasagna ahead and reheated it gently, which gave it a rather firm texture and allowed the flavors to meld beautifully.

You can find the recipe for Sunday Sauce at: http://memoriediangelina.com/2009/10/12/il-ragu-della-domenica-sunday-sauce/

For little meatballs: http://memoriediangelina.com/2009/10/19/zitoni-al-forno-con-le-polpettine/

For fresh egg pasta: http://memoriediangelina.com/2009/09/11/how-to-make-fresh-egg-pasta/

Schema/Recipe SEO Data Markup by ZipList Recipe Plugin
http://memoriediangelina.com/2010/02/14/angelinas-lasagna-di-carnevale/

Tags: , , , , , ,

Subscribe

Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

29 Responses to “Angelina’s Lasagna di Carnevale (Lasagna for Carnival)”

  1. 5 March 2014 at 11:41 #

    I had never heard of this type of lasagne and those pictures are mouthwatering. I now understand why these were called lasagne di carnevale… quite a dish! Love how descriptive this post is, very interesting read.

  2. 13 February 2013 at 15:23 #

    Yours is one of the only recipes for lasagna that is even close to my grandmother’s way of making lasagna that I’ve ever come across. My grandmother was from Bagnoli, Provincia Avellino…just east of Naples, up in the hills. When she came to the Chicagoland area in the first decades of the 20th C., she brought with her the “Napolitan’” way of cooking that employed filling her lasagnas with hundreds of tiny little handmade meatballs, just like yours. She also mixed her ricotta with eggs and parsley, but added the parmesan throughout the layers individually. One last thing she did that was different from your version. She would hard boil eggs, slice them, and layer the slices in the lasagna as well. It added a certain richness to the dish.

    Thank you so much for sharing this. My father learned this method from his mother, taught my mother how to do it, and then she in turn taught me. And now I’ve taught my children. And so it goes, down through the generations. This is part of the great beauty and cultural value of cooking.

  3. 13 February 2013 at 11:27 #

    Abbondanza! Wow, Frank. I’ll come over for Sunday dinner any time. This really looks wonderful – soul satisfying and delicious. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your sharing these treasure. Grazie!

  4. Nadia
    16 January 2013 at 21:35 #

    Delicious and am now inspired to make lasagne just like my mama used to make…..which incidentally, is pretty much the same as your Angrlina’s recipe!

  5. 22 February 2012 at 07:11 #

    Thanks Kate!

  6. Anonymous
    21 February 2012 at 08:56 #

    As always, Frank, a fabulous post. Now, if I could come up with an entire weekend at home so I could make this… I love the way you blend the history of the dishes with the instructions. And, your recipes are always spot on. Thank you :-) Kate @kateiscooking

  7. 16 October 2011 at 17:34 #

    Thanks, @Fiona! So glad you're enjoying the site. Do come back often!

  8. Fiona
    13 October 2011 at 09:08 #

    Thank you so much for this fantastic recipe! I love ALL the pasta recipes on this site. Traditional recipes, well explained for a novice, and simpler recipes when I am not looking for anything too elaborate. Love it!

  9. 9 March 2011 at 21:04 #

    I've followed your blog for some time now, and yet have never left a comment. I have also made and posted La Grande Lasagna di Carnevale, but the recipe that I'm accustomed to also adds chopped prosciutto and salami in addition to the meatballs, which really takes the lasagna over the top. I do like this recipe that you've shared and will definitely make it! Roz at La Bella Vita

  10. 8 April 2010 at 07:26 #

    that first pic is, well just a slice of heaven… been running a little behind down here but I am glad I got to this one, it will be on my to do list, of course, you know I will cheat some….

  11. 7 April 2010 at 13:00 #

    Wonderful, tasty, and a time honored family tradition!

    Thank you for sharing this one!

    Bon appetite!
    CCR
    =:~)

  12. 5 April 2010 at 15:05 #

    this is a real work of art Frank!

  13. 5 April 2010 at 12:56 #

    Wow, this looks amazing and exactly what I'd expect if I was having dinner at any Nonna's house.

  14. 5 April 2010 at 12:22 #

    Bravo, a splendid dish, superbly described!

  15. 5 April 2010 at 10:31 #

    Wow, stunning. I'm going to try this recipe next time..but don't tell my grandmother :)

  16. 5 April 2010 at 10:11 #

    Love it! I absolutely adore the fact that it is a family recipe!

  17. 26 March 2010 at 22:19 #

    I think I saw this one on Rachel's 30 minute meals… not!

    I am humbled by this recipe. I will no longer make my own lasagna recipe.

  18. 17 February 2010 at 22:10 #

    OMG lasagne one of my favourite Italian dishes, but I never really got about making them. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!
    (Looks like a little hard work though, but will sure beat any of those crappy ones they sell in them restaurants here in Malaysia)

  19. 16 February 2010 at 16:51 #

    This looks so good. I'm wondering if you will post Lasange in Brodo sometime. It's always intrigued so will you please do it sometime.
    Thanks

  20. 16 February 2010 at 01:57 #

    This looks so amazing! This is something so delicious and the cheese is so overwhelming! Thanks for sharing.
    dining table

  21. 15 February 2010 at 11:58 #

    I will be planning ahead for Sunday dinner, thank you! ~LeslieMichele

  22. 15 February 2010 at 10:16 #

    I grew up with my mother and aunts making “Sunday” sauce. I still do that. On Saturday. For Sunday. Exquisite lasagna.

  23. 15 February 2010 at 08:41 #

    This looks tremendous – a delicious way to splurge, as you say, before Lent! As much as I love gooey cheese, your grandmother's emphasis on her ragu is so much more appealing. As I scrolled down to read the post, I was also peeking at the wonderful past recipes listed to the left. I envy your family's dinner table!

  24. 15 February 2010 at 00:08 #

    Your recipes always look so delicious. Lasagna is a favorite in my house. Love it!

  25. 14 February 2010 at 15:28 #

    I just love this! Living in the Emilia Romagna area I am so used to the traditional Lasagne al Ragu but you are so right in naming it Lasagne di Carnivale. Just like with the national festival, so many different and colourful flavours have gone into this! Just looks sublime! Happy Carnevale!

  26. 14 February 2010 at 14:51 #

    That lasagna is perfection. I could go swimming in that ragu.

  27. 14 February 2010 at 13:46 #

    It does look like a regional dish, never heard of this nelle Marche. We mainly prepare the traditional kind, But I can tell from the ingredients that this must be a very tasty dish full of wonderful aromas.

  28. 14 February 2010 at 13:33 #

    this looks amazing! thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: