When I say, "Layers of food," does lasagna come to mind? Did you know that the etymology of the word lasagna is the Latin word “lasanum” meaning container or pot? That gives us the freedom to layer all sorts of food in a lasagna pan or, as was done during our region’s colonial days, in a pot that hung in the fireplace.
Chowder in Layers
I normally make clam chowder in a stockpot on my cooktop, but I’ve learned that in early chowder days the dish was made by layering the ingredients in a cauldron.
Here is a recipe for fish chowder from the 1832 edition of The American Frugal Housewife, by Lydia M. Child ...
“Four pounds of fish are enough to make a chowder for four or five people; half a dozen slices of salt pork in the bottom of the pot; hang it high, so that the pork may not burn; take it out when done very brown; put in a layer of fish, cut in lengthwise slices, then a layer formed of crackers, small or sliced onions, and potatoes sliced as thin as a four-pence, mixed with pieces of pork you have fried; then a layer of fish again, and so on. Six crackers are enough. Strew a little salt and pepper over each layer; over the whole pour a bowl-full of flour and water, enough to come up even with the surface of what you have in the pot. A sliced lemon adds to the flavor. A cup of tomato catsup is very excellent. Some people put in a cup of beer. A few clams are a pleasant addition. It should be covered so as not to let a particle of steam escape, if possible. Do not open it, except when nearly done, to taste if it be well seasoned.”
In the first photo, you see a favorite Portuguese Fisherman’s Stew recipe from Yankee's Lost & Vintage Recipes that is made in layers. Aromatics – onions, garlic, parsley, and herbs – are sautéed and then layered with white fish, potatoes, and tomatoes in a white wine broth. You can cover this and simmer it on top of the stove, in an oven, over a campfire, or in a fireplace.
Easier in Layers
When I’m craving stuffed cabbage but don’t have the time to make the dish the traditional way, I make a casserole with layers of sauce, meat and rice mixture, and sautéed cabbage. For a potluck, you can make a big dish of this without the fuss of rolling individual servings. Sometimes I tuck a layer of kielbasa slices among the usual ingredients.
Just think of the variations on lasagna. You can use eggplant or zucchini and keep it vegetarian or load it with sausage, cheese, and meat for hearty appetites.
Other favorite, layered main courses are the famous meat and potato pies from the British Isles: fish pie, shepherd’s pie, and cottage pie.
If you have a favorite dish with some fussy preparation steps, think about making it as a layered casserole.
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Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino
Photos: ©2017 Penny & Ed Cherubino
(Adapted for BostonZest from one of our Fresh & Local newspaper columns.)