Layered with history as well as cheese, lasagne of all kinds have contented pasta lovers since the Greeks had a word for it. "Laganon" meant a sheet of dough cut into strips; "lasanan," a cooking pot. Both became "lasanum" for the Romans. The plate in which the pasta was cooked then evolved into the dish itself. All of which shows how long it has been around and how many possibilities there are. On LI, the versions vary from the classic Bolognese with bechamel to more Southern Italian styles with little meatballs, crumbled sausage, even hard-boiled eggs. In the pleasurable pursuit of the primo lasagna, here are Newsday's choices for the best in Nassau and Suffolk. Mangia bene.
Bacaro Italian Tavern
Bacaro Italian Tavern, Massapequa Park: The meatless lasagna at this Italian eatery is homey and very good.
Sal's Ristorante, Smithtown: The vegetable lasagna here is particularly vibrant. The surprise is that it doesn't have any cheese, making it a good choice for vegans. Executive chef Pedro Alvarez blanches and seasons zucchini, eggplant, roasted red peppers, carrots and broccoli. Over a layer of marinara sauce goes another of the finely cut vegetables, which are topped with noodles; the layering is repeated. When ordered, a slab is heated in the oven before being plated with tomato sauce and chopped parsley on top.
The Trattoria, St. James: Chef-owner Steven Gallagher's five-layer lasagna Bolognese begins with house-made pasta. It's blanched and layered first with tomato sauce that includes onion and garlic, grated Pecorino-Romano cheese; then with a "crumbled" Bolognese sauce made of beef, pork, guanciale, or cured pork jowl, heavy cream and dry red wine; and followed by béchamel sauce with grated Fontina cheese. The airy and lush lasagna is baked covered, then uncovered, and served in a terra-cotta cazuela pot.
Emilio's, Commack: Emilio Branchinelli's three-layer Italian American lasagna features ground beef, mozzarella, a blend of regular and impastata (extra-creamy) ricotta, spices and fresh pasta. Branchinelli also shaves some hard-boiled egg between each layer. He brushes the top of the construct with a plum tomato sauce before baking it. When ordered, a "hearty homestyle cut" is returned to the oven for a short time, topped with more sauce and some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Abeetza Next Door
Abeetza Next Door, Greenvale: This lush zucchini lasagna is the answer for those who prefer eating low-fat, low-carb and gluten-free. Abeetza's chef-owner Joseph DeLorenzo starts by slicing zucchini lengthwise, "eggplant style," salting and then draining the slices to get out the excess water and then lightly grilling them. The sliced zucchini is then treated like pasta, layered with a mixture of goat cheese, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano. A little red sauce goes on top before it's baked and allowed to set. When ordered, it's warmed and then served on a bed of sauteed baby spinach. More red sauce then goes on top.
Butera's, Woodbury, Smithtown, and Sayville: Butera's makes its unusual unlayered lasagna in a skillet. You may order it in many varieties, such as chicken meatball, vegetable and seafood, but a favorite is the version done with house-made veal sausage. The crumbled sausage is sauteed in a pan with tomato cream sauce and fresh spinach. Then, herbed ricotta and fresh malfada (thin curly-edged strips of pasta) go in. The blend is transferred to a casserole, topped with mozzarella and run under the broiler until golden brown.
Casa Rustica, Smithtown: The lasagna Bolognese at Mimmo and Benedetto Gambino's Casa Rusticais is a three-layer assemblage that commences with house-made pasta. Chef Brian Weissis' generous, richly flavored version layers the sheets of pasta with béchamel sauce, a savory Bolognese sauce made with beef, veal and pork, and fresh ricotta and mozzarella. More of the meat sauce is added to the top layer of pasta, and the dish is served with extra tomato sauce on the side.
Ciao Baby, Massapequa Park: While chef Heather West is no longer executive chef of Ciao Baby, her signature entree, Grandma's eggplant lasagna, remains a menu standby. With eggplant a stand-in for pasta, the thinly sliced vegetable is first salted, to get the water out, lightly floured, fried and then layered with whipped egg, Parmigiano-Reggiano and a mixture of basil, parsley, salt, pepper and garlic. Sauce is added every few layers and also goes on top. When ordered, a hefty slab, enough to feed two to three, is reheated with sauce and topped with more Parmigiano-Reggiano. A dollop of ricotta goes into the plate.
Eric's Italian Bistro
Eric's Italian Bistro, Mineola: Chef-owner George Echeverria's three-layer lasagna begins with fresh pasta but is defined by his whipped, creamy, well-seasoned ricotta impastata, which precludes any need for béchamel sauce. Layers of traditional marinara sauce, a meaty beef, veal and pork-laden sauce Bolognese, and a melted-cheese top with fresh mozzarella finish the homey, very satisfying production, a special that turns every day into Sunday.