The Origin Of Lasagna Isn't What You Think

Is there anyone who doesn't love lasagna? Its layered pasta sheets filled with a variety of meaty, cheesy goodness are a menu staple in Italian restaurants, and a comfort food favorite baked in home kitchens around the globe.

If you're a habitué of Italian restaurants, you've probably encountered many subtly different versions of this classic dish: with or without spinach; with or without meat, be it ground beef or Italian sausage; and with cheeses ranging from ricotta and mozzarella to parmesan and more.

There are so many variations that at some point you probably wondered: what was the original version? What were the ingredients used in the original lasagna? Trust us: it's nothing like what you'd imagine. Indeed, the original version is completely unrecognizable from the lasagna we enjoy today. As a matter of fact, lasagna's origin isn't even in Italy.

That's right. You heard us. The true origin of lasagna is in Ancient Greece, where according to Mi'Talia, a dish called laganon was popular. Laganon, as it happens, was the first pasta, made from sheets of dough cut into thin strips. 

The evolution of lasagna

So how did pasta end up in Italy? Well, when the Ancient Romans conquered the Ancient Greeks in 146 BC, they were introduced to laganon, which, as Italian Garden notes, they immediately took a liking to. The Romans took pasta back home and created a primitive version of lasagna with it, called lasagne patina. This early version, according to National Geographic, included ingredients as unlikely as fish and sow's belly.

But as century after century passed, lasagna continued to evolve. As Italy Magazine relates, in 1284 Fra' Salimbene da Parma famously said of another friar: "I've never seen anyone stuffing himself on lasagna with cheese so pleasurably and so fully as him."

Researchers in Great Britain have discovered an Italian recipe in a cookbook that dates from 1390, per Italian Garden, although tomato sauce doesn't make its first recorded appearance in a recipe until the 1880s in Naples. As Mi'Talia confirms, Naples was an important center for the evolution of lasagna during the Middle Ages.

The layered lasagna we now know and love, however, was popularized by Francesco Zambrini from Bologna in the 19th century. This version is the derivation of lasagna as it is now made in Italian restaurants around the U.S., per Italy Magazine.

So, there you have it. That's the true history of lasagna. Its name may have originated in Greece, but the dish itself is 100% Italian.