[Sca-cooks] Lasagna and Tortelli

David Friedman ddfr at daviddfriedman.com
Fri Feb 5 13:19:47 PST 2010

In an earlier post, I mentioned some puzzles associated with two 
recipes in the Italian cookbook Rebecca has just translated. I think 
I now have satisfactory, although not certain, answers to them.

(Due Libri di Cucine, Libro B)
He who wants to make lesanga, take good white flour and boil it in 
capon broth. If it is not so much, put in some other water, and put 
in some salt to boil with it, and dump it in a broad, flat bowl, and 
put in enough cheese, and throw over it the cuttings of the fat of 
the capon.

The first time we tried this, at a recent cooking workshop, the 
person who did it followed my usual rule of trying to take the recipe 
as literally as possible on a first try. It didn't work very well. My 
current conclusion, along lines suggested by two or three people, is 
that the recipe assumes that you know you make lesanga by kneading 
together flour and water and rolling or stretching out the resulting 
dough, hence omits that step. The boiling is done to the pasta after 
it is formed, rather than stirring flour into boiling broth.

No further cooking is mentioned, so I simply made the lesanga, cut it 
into a few pieces, boiled them for ten minutes or so, put on it some 
parmesan cheese and a little rendered chicken fat. Came out pretty 

If you want to make torteli of meat of fresh mixed pork, boil it so 
that it is cooked, and beat it with a knife so that it is very good, 
and take the pot and boil it and grind it in a mortar and put in up 
to six eggs that are boiled and mix with the meat and put in good 
spices and put in some good dry, grated cheese, and you want to make 
this pie in a pie-shell of lasagna and one should not boil it in meat 
broth and it should be given for dish with a long meat pottage of 
pepper, and it is good

The first time we tried this, the assumption was that it was a baked 
pie, even though it doesn't say so. I tried it again in three 
different versions:

1. Line a pie pan with the cooked lesanga from the previous recipe, 
fill it, bake it. Not very good.

2. Fill the cooked lesanga (pieces about 3"x6") with the filling and 
boil it. Unworkable because the cooked lesanga sticks to itself.

3. Stuff the uncooked lesanga with the filling and boil it--taking 
"tortelli" in its modern sense as stuffed pasta. Worked fine.

On further consideration, I'm pretty sure 3 is correct. For one 
thing, checking the early 17th century Italian-English recipe Rebecca 
has been using, I found that although one meaning of the word she 
translated as "pie-shell" is indeed pie-shell, another is "skin." 
Along the lines of "wonton skins," I think it plausible that the term 
was used for the pasta wrapping. For another thing, the final "and it 
should be given for dish with a long meat pottage of pepper" makes 
more sense if these are small pastas served in a pottage than if they 
are a pie served with a pottage--the cookbook doesn't generally 
advise the reader as to what dishes go together.

And, finally, it works and is good.

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