We live in an era of performative project-cooking. It’s time to bring back the reassuring, unglamorous functionality of a big tray of baked pasta.
I’ve never been one for food trend predictions, but in 2018 I have one very specific forecast: This will be the year of the Big Lasagna Comeback. This is the bolognese-soaked hill I’m willing to die on. By the end of this year, the streets will be flowing with ricotta, and we will raise thin sheets of fresh pasta up to the tops of our flagpoles. This is the year we’re going to Make America Lasagna Again.
Sure, sure, maybe you’re scratching your head right now, saying, “What are you talking about? Lasagna has been here all along. I made it last night. I’m eating some right now with my morning coffee.” But more likely, you’re saying with a wistful look into the distance, “Lasagna? I haven’t thought about it in years.”
When was the last time you walked into a hip new restaurant in your neighborhood and saw a brick of lasagna on the menu? Or a recipe for lasagna in a buzzy new cookbook? When’s the last time you were served lasagna at a dinner party or made it for guests? My guess is that for many of you, it’s been a minute. Over the last few years, we’ve edged away from baked pastas—the stuffed shells and the baked zitis of the world—towards fried eggs on piles of barely cooked vegetables. Gone are the hearty casserole dishes full of wide noodles, blistered around the edges, slowly reheating under a lid of aluminum foil.
We’ve replaced our everyday eating with a more pared-down minimalist approach, and we’ve replaced this type of utilitarian project-cooking with a more performative type of project-cooking. Every now and then, we’ll spend hours making dinner, but only if we have something to show off to our friends on Twitter and Instagram. We’re more inclined to tackle a grisly roasted pig’s head, or a centerpiece cake full of yellow and pink stripes, than banal sauce-noodle layering.
But everything old becomes new again, and in 2018 I want to once again make big, ugly pans of lasagna, full of ground meat and ricotta—of which I will probably not take any cell phone pictures. I want to scoop ungainly sheets of pasta out of pots of boiling water, and make nutmeg-y bechamel sauces, and turn ricotta green with spinach. I want to make simple lemony lasagnas and rich bolognese lasagnas. I want to find at least one restaurant that has a lasagna du jour. I want the whole meal tucked efficiently into a four-by-four-inch square of food—protein, carbs, and vegetables.
I’m not the only person cheering for a lasagna comeback. In a recent piece for Extra Crispy, making the case for lasagna as a breakfast food, Kat Kinsman writes, “This must happen, this needs to happen, and the only way it will happen is with ubiquity and persistence, starting with breakfast.” David Chang made a batch this past weekend. Williams-Sonoma has already begun the noble task of normalizing lasagna as a luxury item with its new $200 lasagna pan.
There are stalwarts, of course, who have been making lasagna this whole time, famous chefs and expensive cookware be damned. Most of the recipes I have found from the last five years happen to be written by women, many of them moms writing to help other moms get some utilitarian food on the table for their families. Will men make lasagna too in 2018? What is the New Year for, if not a renewed sense of hope for humankind?
In a recent lasagna-lauding piece in the Los Angeles Times, Evan Kleiman wrote, “It’s an elegant and simple way to use up any bits and pieces you have in the fridge. It’s a form of kitchen pragmatism—even optimism, which is maybe useful for the coming year.”
In a sense, lasagna may be our best way to move forward from 2017, using up the leftovers and stocking our freezers to prepare for the unexpected in 2018. In 2017, we skipped dinner to go to protests, skipped restaurants when we found out ugly truths about their owners, and lost our appetites more than once. In 2018, it will all happen again, and we’ll have lasagna to lean on.