I made this lasagna for a dear friend whom we were visiting and who couldn’t cook herself because she was recovering from a slipped disc operation. Lasagna is a great dish for such an occasion, because it can be prepared in advance and can simply be heated up in the oven. This will even improve the flavor. My original plan was to make Lasagne alla Bolognese, but when ChgoJohn wrote that he used cream cheese instead of ricotta in his Lasagne dei Bartolini I was intrigued because I had never used either of those in lasagna before. I then learned from Wikipedia and Google ricotta is used in Lasagne alla Napoletana or di Carnevale, and that’s why I decided to make that instead.
Today is Mardi Gras (martedì grasso), the last day of carnival (carnevale) and the traditional dish to eat in southern Italy is Lasagne di Carnevale. You can also eat this lasagna in another time of the year, and then it’s called Lasagne alla Napoletana. Unlike the better known Lasagne alla Bolognese, this lasagna is made with slices of sausage (cervellatine), little meatballs (polpettine) and ricotta, rather than with ground meat and béchamel sauce (besciamella). I find the Napoletana slightly ‘lighter’ or ‘fresher’ in taste as compared to the Bolognese, but of course it is still a filling dish.
Most important for a good Lasagne alla Napoletana is an outstanding Ragù Napoletana, which has to be made with pork only for Lasagne di Carnevale and can be made with a mixture of pork and beef for Lasagne alla Napoletana. Since it takes quite long to make this ragù, it is best to make it the day before.
Another important ingredient that will impart a typical flavor is smoked scamorza or provolone. Smoked scamorza can best be described as smoked mozzarella. It has a distinct shape because it has been hung up with a piece of string to be smoked.
Traditionally, Lasagne alla Napoletana is made with dried durum wheat lasagna sheets that are parcooked. I’ve used fresh pasta made from eggs and durum wheat flour (semola di grano duro rimacinato) instead because it makes the the lasagna more elegant. You could also use dried lasagna sheets that do not need to be cooked, but then you need to make sure that all the sheets are completely submerged in the sauce as they would otherwise stay raw. With parcooked sheets it is okay if some are not submerged in the sauce and become crispy, many people like it that way. But if you don’t parcook the sheets that is another story. Fresh pasta is much easier to handle when parcooked because it doesn’t tear as easily and keeps its shape better.
As with most traditional Italian recipes, there are many variations with each family having its own heirloom recipe. There are variations in the types of soft cheese (mozzarella and/or scamorza), as well as the type of grated cheese (parmigiano or pecorino). Some recipes include slices of hard-boiled eggs as well.
Another difference with Lasagne alla Bolognese I’ve noticed is that most recipes for Lasagne alla Napoletana call for using sheets of dough on the sides of the lasagna as well. My theory is that this is done because otherwise the meatballs will fall out.
This post is also a reminder that when taking photos while cooking, it is important to check the lense now and then… The pictures are still acceptable, but is clear that there was some grease on the lense 😦
1 preparation of Ragù Napoletana
meatballs (polpettine) made with the meat from the ragù (see below)
sausage from the ragù, sliced
500 grams (2 cups) ricotta (homemade if you like)
1 mozzarella, preferably buffalo, about 125 grams (4-5 oz), diced
1 smoked scamorza or smoked provolone (about 200 grams, 7 oz), diced
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, about 200 grams (7 oz)
enough lasagna sheets for 4 layers of pasta plus an more for the edges (if made fresh, about 3 eggs plus 300 grams/2 cups flour, semola di grano duro)
butter for buttering the lasagna dish
For the polpettine
3 Tbsp chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
100 grams (3.5 oz) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
salt and freshly ground black pepper
70 grams (2.5 oz) stale bread without crusts
olive oil for frying
Reserve the sausages and take 400 grams (14 oz) of the other meat to make the meatballs.
It is a good idea to make a single meatball, fry it, and taste it to make sure the seasoning is right.
I made fresh pasta, but you could also use dried.
Parboil the lasagna sheets and let them dry on kitchen towels. You can read how in my post on Lasagna alla Bolognese.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.