Kitchn Love Letters

Cooking and Community: The Power of Lasagne alla Bolognese

published Aug 29, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Giuliano Hazan's Lasagne alla Bolognese
Credit: Nicole Rufus

My beginnings in the kitchen were quite humble. In fact, I’m not even really sure that it can be characterized as cooking. It mostly entailed heating up frozen packaged dinners. Sometimes it was those individual TV dinners, which always taste way better heated up in the oven versus the microwave, and other times I would opt for what became one of my tried-and-true favorites: a family-sized Stouffer’s lasagna.

While heating up Stouffer’s lasagna doesn’t require much effort, it was an early lesson for me in how much I enjoy feeding others. My older siblings were always especially pleased with me on those nights, and it felt good as the baby of the family to feel that I had something to contribute. It was in those early kitchen days that I began to understand how food can bring people together.

As I got older and my cooking evolved, I began trying my hand at homemade versions of my favorite frozen meals. The first homemade lasagna that I attempted as a teenager was a complete disaster. The sauce was bitter beyond belief and the noodles that I had attempted to roll out by hand were doughy and unpleasant. It was disappointing, but it was also extremely motivating. I was determined to master the art of lasagna.

Credit: Nicole Rufus

My mom had a stack of random cookbooks in the kitchen, and after my bruised ego healed, I flipped through several of them looking for another lasagna recipe to try. I stumbled across a recipe for Lasagne alla Bolognese, which is essentially lasagna with Bolognese and béchamel sauce — lasagne is the plural of lasagna, which technically means that there’s just one sheet of pasta. At the time, I didn’t know any of this, but I did know that I loved Bolognese, so I decided to give it a try. Luckily for me, my second homemade lasagna attempt was much more successful.

Not only did that Lasagne alla Bolognese taste absolutely delicious, but knowing that I was the one who made it had my teen self swelling with pride. I was so excited to share a slice with anyone that I could — family, friends, neighbors — and I remember being surprised by how touched people were. The best part about making that lasagna was the act of sharing it, and that has stayed me with me all these years later.

The older I get, and the more chaotic the world around us becomes, the more I reflect on the power of food to build and foster community. Lasagne alla Bolognese taught me so much about cooking — like what mirepoix is and why you should let sauces simmer low and slow to build flavor. It’s one of those recipes that gave me greater confidence in the kitchen. It’s more than that, though: It’s one of the first recipes that helped me realize that food is about so much more than the food itself. It’s about people.

This Lasagne alla Bolognese recipe by Giuliano Hazan is my favorite. The final result is a hearty, savory lasagna that begs to be shared with a crowd. Hazan gives you a play-by-play on making the Bolognese, the béchamel sauce, and the pasta from scratch. And, yes, it tastes delicious, but my favorite thing about this recipe is that it is a labor of love. It’s the definition of food that you make for others.

Credit: Nicole Rufus

As I was giving this recipe another go last week, a dear friend lost her father unexpectedly. When someone you care for is grieving, I find the hardest part to be the fact that there is no perfect combination of words that can alleviate their pain; there are no condolences that truly encompass the depth of their grief. Mourning is an instance where words so often fail. But if being a home cook has taught me anything, it’s that when words fail, let food do the talking.

As I cooked, I thought of my friend and how special she is. I thought of her pain and how much I wished that I could carry some of it for her. On the car ride to her house, I was grateful that this heavy baking dish full of meaty Bolognese, creamy béchamel sauce, and tender pasta would do some of the talking for me. It wasn’t lost on me that here was another example, by way of lasagna, that food is about the people we share it with.

Get the recipe: Lasagne alla Bolognese