To some, eating lasagna means more than comfort food. A ‘one dish’ dinner choice of warm meat sauce made with ripe tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil and ground meat spooned between layers of galvanized pasta and creamy cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella. It means tradition; most times a tradition of the family’s matriarch perfecting a recipe, effortlessly made to feed her family gathered to enjoy her cooking. For me, eating lasagna is definitely the latter. My Ma, not the Martin’s matriarch, but she is the one we go to for cooking advice and for her lasagna.
As I sit at Ma’s sewing table at home in Trinidad, which for the next couple of weeks will double as a work desk, I would love to share a family’s Christmas tradition. My Ma recalls making her first lasagna years ago, working for a young English couple that lived in Point-a-Pierre. Back then, that area in southern Trinidad was known to be home to many expats that came to the twin isles for work at the country’s Petroleum Company. My mother was never fond of using mozzarella and cottage cheese in lasagna – how Mrs. Anderson instructed. And, to make the creation of this pie easier, my mother used ingredients that was readily available. People might think this recipe is exotic but at home my Ma uses the staple ingredients of pineapple chunks, olives and sweet dark raisins in her meat sauce. The taste being reminiscent to a richer, meatier saucy pastilles filling but not lacking the bold flavors of fresh garlic, tomatoes and dried oregano. A rich creamy béchamel sauce made with sharp white cheddar and cream cheese instead of ricotta is used. In the assembly of the lasagna, the cooked pasta interchanges vertical and horizontal directions to hold the form better when cutting into lasagna.
For years lasagna has been the focal dish for Christmas lunch. Served with a quick sauté of vegetables like onions, carrots and christophine (chayote). Thick cuts of baked pork chops, roasted turkey, a simple side salad and of course unlimited glasses of the popular ox-blood red Sorrel drink. With no debate I see no signs of this tradition changing. For the Christmas season eight to ten large pies are made, with Christmas lunch being treated as an inaugural lasagna easting fest, free rein given to indulge and share with visiting friends and family.
I hope you are enjoying your holiday time with family and friends as much as I am. Please share with me your family Christmas traditions!