Further impugning my chauvinism is the fact that lasagna is not, speaking factually, a food of my mother's people. Lasagna was unknown in the impoverished post-war Sacco where my mother grew up. It was my aunt Rose, the family pioneer first to emigrate to America by way of marriage to an Italian-American immigrant, who learned to make lasagna in the Italian diaspora of Brooklyn—in Canarsie, of all nieghborhoods!—and who ever after remained family maestra of the dish. Her lasagna was the true magnum opus of Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey being but our American totem to surround with sundry more savory Italian foods, including at least two other meat dishes and a half dozen vegetable accompaniments, to follow the lasagna as the first dish.
But as sudden as sunrise, what should appear in this land of my exile but delicious ricotta! [Liuzzi Angeloni, at Giolitti] Brave new day! Granted, there is still a tinge of shame in the fact that this delicious ricotta comes imported from Connecticut rather than Brooklyn , but the consolation of its creaminess renders me oblivious, as the babe in her arms makes the joyful mother forget the pangs of its childbirth. Ricotta!, ricotta!, ricotta! delicious enough to lick from a spoon, not even bothering to spread it on crusty bread! A milky deliciousness that speaks to our sensorium’s first delight: tangy like mother’s milk; creamy, though not creamed; plain without plainness; substantive without heaviness; fresh, wet, pulpy, um—um—more, Mum, more.
(By the way, if you’re a vegetarian whose conscience is so delicate that, not only will you not eat meat, but even anything in contact with meat (e.g., sugo), then I submit that you should abjure lasagna as well; for if your conscience will not consort with any assault upon a sentient being, a fortiori it should not consort with corruption of an essence, being an assault upon Being Itself.)
I was told in Rome that back when there were still no ovens in most homes, people brought their lasagna to the baker for baking and picked it up later that day and served lukewarm at home. Lasagna is slow food. You need half a day to make it, and you should take half a day to eat it, at a table long with family and friends, chatting cacophonously, clincking glasses and clanging dishes in a procession of courses as long as the afternoon, sowing memory and desire with graces of the present moment.