Lasagna Culture

While most of you are probably scrambling around looking for ways to use up the leftovers from Thanksgiving, I am slightly jealous, since I have nothing here to use up. Unlike some American holidays, which have been modestly successful in France, Thanksgiving is still uniquely American and it’s hard to explain the appeal of a day committed to overeating mediocre food that’s often, frankly, a bit weird looking at it from this side of the Atlantic.

Lots of Freshly-Shaved Black Truffle Slices

So we had an anti-Thanksgiving, which involved lots of French pleasures, including an enormous, fragrant black truffle, lots and lots of icy flutes of Champagne, and a giant lobe of foie gras as well. But curiously, most of the Thanksgiving dinners here happen on Saturday night, since everyone works on Thursday.

Plus, if you invite a Parisian to any sort of dinner that starts before 8pm, they think you’re out of your mind.

In addition, I do derive a certain amount of pleasure out of explaining the day, and our traditional feast, to Parisians. A bit of gastronomic torture, if you will. For some reason I take a perverse delight in seeing their faces gradually change from curiosity, contorting into disbelieve as I describe mashed sweet potatoes covered with gooey, blackened marshmallows, or chopping up fresh, briny oysters and cramming them into a bird and cooking them for hours and hours.

So while everyone out there is thinking of ways to use up leftover turkey, which I don’t have (and there was no leftover truffles of foie gras), I’ve been thinking of ways this weekend to finally, once-and-of-all, use up another leftover around here.

About three years back, I sublet my apartment to a nice, young couple, one Australian and her Italian boyfriend. After a few months of travel, I returned to my apartment to find they’d left something behind, in a shiny blue box.

What was in that box is something that’s been vexing to me practically every day since my return: a half-box of dried Barilla lasagna noodles.

As many of you may recall, I have a problem with throwing things away. I can’t get rid of anything. Nothing gets tossed unless it’s furry.

Have an extra apple lying around? I buy a dozen more and make an apple tart. What? Throw out that quarter-cup of chocolate ganache? Spend the afternoon churning up a batch of chocolate ice cream studded with chocolate truffles.
(I still haven’t figured out what to do with that half-jar of dulce de leche from the brownies I made for my fish-boys, though. Any ideas?)

That thrift is definitely a trait I directly blame squarely on my mother, which she got from her mother. (When my grandmother died, two drawers in her kitchen were completely packed-full with metal twist-ties. Looking back, I’m sorry I didn’t save them since I’m sure they’d be a great addition to some crazy blog I should start devoted to twist-ties, or something like that.)

Anyhow…so I have this box with six or seven lasagna noodles in it, lingering for months in my cupboard. But after a while, I’m kinda tired of looking at them, moving the box around all the time which is always in the way and taking up valuable real estate in my cabinet. So I decide to make lasagna.


I do all the shopping, bringing home ricotta cheese and mozzarella. I make big batch of tomato sauce and chop up lots of spinach for the filling. Then layer everything into baking dishes. But wait. Back up. Keep going, back up a but further…to the shopping a bit. Since it’s a lot of work to make lasagna, I figured I outta make two lasagnas, and pop one in the freezer. So I buy an extra box of lasagna noodles as well.

The problem is, after I was done, I find that I have a few lasagna noodles left afterwards. While you may not think this is such a problem, it’s now gotten out of control and has been going on for a number of years. It’s the same thing and now repeats itself and it’s become an endless cycle of lasagna-making around here for the past few years.

So while all you folks out there are trying to figure out what to do with your turkey leftovers crammed in your fridge (which I, personally, would kill for) I’m once again stuck trying to figure out what to do with my few remaining lasagna noodles, which I’ve now dubbed my lasagna ‘culture’.

(If you’ve ever made yogurt or sourdough bread, you save a bit from the previous batch to inoculate the next batch, called the ‘culture’.)

While we’re on the subject of different cultures, when I explain the concept of people waking up at 4am the day after Thanksgiving to do their Christmas shopping (somehow vendredi noir, or Black Friday, will probably never become part of the French vernacular), and I get a lot of looks of disbelief. Somehow the idea of spending the night shivering on a freezing sidewalk for a videogame, or a doll, doesn’t have much appeal in Paris…although I do recall quite the line at Chanel during the promotion last January. But since it’s only November, and I don’t wear much Chanel, I needed to find something else to occupy my time around here. And I decided one and for all to be done with them and to finally finish up the last of the lasagna noodles.


So my Black Friday involved a special challenge: locating a Costco-sized container of ricotta, which I actually found, seeing as it would be a waste to use the very fancy, and rather pricy, artisanal stuff they sell in Italian specialty stores for my humble lasagna. (The size tub I did find would make a great item in case there’s ever a scavenger hunt here in Paris for unusual things like, say large tubs of food. Aside from the ricotta, with my 10-pound blocks of chocolate and my smuggled in American marshmallows, I’ve managed to stockpile an impressive array of industrial-sized items around here, which would blow away any of the competition.)

But to make up for my thrift (thanks again, mom…), I pick up six or so packages of good mozzarella as well. I bring them all home, then chop up beaucoup de spinach for the filling and grate a hefty wedge of Pecorino cheese into a bowl. I go to work, making sure everything gets layered into baking dishes, alternating homemade tomato sauce with the spinach filling, layering it all with various cheeses, then smoothing everything nicely into place, until I finally get to the top.

I look around.
I’ve successfully used up the huge batch of spinach-and-ricotta filling I assembled. Every slice of mozzarella the I sliced is gone. Not one drop of tomato sauce is left in the saucepan nor is there a single shaving of Pecorino cheese remaining in the bowl.

Nothing is left.

Oh…except this—


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  • November 25, 2006 12:22pm

    Very funny. I think your lasagne looks great. I was laughing because I always have that leftover lasagna noodle issue. Today I’m combining cultures a bit and making turkey sage lasagna from my leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

  • Henriette
    November 25, 2006 12:32pm

    Hahaha-that is hilarious!I was making lasagna yesterday and guess what happend…Somehow I didn’t check that I had enough lasagna noodles so when I was ready to start the layering process I was left with only 3-4 plates!Not enough….So what does a hungry gal do?She improvises-with other types of noodles!The lasagna that came out of the oven wasn’t my proudest moment in the kitchen but it tasted ok…And guess what!I don’t have any lasagna “culture” what so ever left in my cupboard for the first time in probably 9 years!;-)

  • Eyal
    November 25, 2006 12:59pm

    The lasgna noodles can be used for a patty – and the end for that leftover.
    dulce de leche – the classic filling for alfajor cookies.
    thanks for another excellent post, David.

  • November 25, 2006 1:12pm

    Your problem, love, is that you had an uneven leftover number to begin with. I find that two boxes usually makes 3 lasagnes when subletting Italians do not leave me strange numbers of noodles just to f**k with me.

    They look like the no-boil noodles, otherwise I’d suggest boiling them and chopping them up into haphazard shapes (the Italians have a word for this kind of pasta, which I don’t really remember) and tossing it with whatever else you are trying to get rid of. Except the VD — do NOT toss them with the VD.

  • Dana
    November 25, 2006 1:26pm

    Leftover dulce de leche makes pretty good “instant” hot chocolate. Just mix it well with cocoa powder (and maybe a bit of cinnamon) until it’s smooth and add boiling water.

  • November 25, 2006 6:18pm

    Some people make lasagna roll ups with leftover noodles (spread with filling, roll up, cover with sauce, bake.) Never done it myself, but you wouldn’t have to necessarily make enough to fit a large pan, just the size pan you need.

    I’d use the dulce de leche as a caramel dip for those sliced apples–delicious! I went through many a jar of confiture de lait this way. :)

  • November 25, 2006 9:23pm

    My suggestion is to make mini-lasagnas — I find that a bread pan will do nicely. You need about 3-4 noodles per lasagna (so you’d still have a ton of lasagnas to make) but they’re individually sized so you could have some for dinner, and then lunch for another day or two.

    Or you could borrow a friend’s children and make arts and crafts with ’em.

    Bon courage either way.

  • Dori Sippel
    November 26, 2006 1:24am

    First of all, I absolutely adore the blog — so much so that I barely feel the need to return to Parigi!
    Take heart in the idea that the Barilla advertisement from the 80’s (when I lived in Italy) was, “Dov’e’ ce’ Barilla, c’e’ casa” :Where there’s Barilla, it’s home. Be Italian and break up those lasagnas into odd shaped pieces and throw them in your pasta-fagioli or minestrone.
    As for the dulce de leche, be like my Mexican friends in Paris and just eat it out of the jar, one teaspoon at a time… xoxo

  • November 26, 2006 3:35am

    Hey David,
    Maltagliati (badly misformed pasta) was the first thing that came into my head, for chicken soup.

    Or, how about a sweet lasagna using up the dulce de leche and some of your industrial ricotta – treat it like a layered cheese cake thing… use a disposable tin tray – that way you can make it to suit the noodles, not the other way ’round

    I love you blog – and you should hear my mom’s comments about it “it is so… professional looking. Of all of them, his is by far the nicest… etc etc etc.” If you felt your ears burning that is why 8^)

  • November 26, 2006 9:17am

    Cannelloni, is always the answer for leftover pasta sheets. You can make as many or as few as necessary.

  • November 26, 2006 11:45am

    Thanks for all the tips, especially making a ‘personal-sized’ lasagna in a loaf pan. But then I’d have to buy more ricotta, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. And what would I do with those leftovers?

    Dori: They eat dulce de leche by the teaspoon? How wimpy is that? I use a tablespoon…

    Aja: So glad you and your mom like the site, and glad to know she’s reading it. I promise to keep the language clean in the future, just as if my own mom was reading it too! Hope you don’t mind sharing her with me…

    David: Actually, I had some filling and sauce leftover and I did make cannelloni. And I still have a few noodles left. Grrr…

    Eyal: Those cookies sound good. But if I made some dough, and used up the small amount of dulce de leche I had, then what would I do with the leftover cookie dough?

    Boy, it’s harder than I thought to get rid of leftovers. Maybe I need to get a dog…

  • Eyal
    November 26, 2006 12:32pm

    David, prepare another (small amount) filling (a praline spread, for example, so you’ll be able to control the quantity. you’re the pro), I’m sure the fish-boys will be happy to get two kinds of alfajor cookies. Good luck.

  • simona
    November 26, 2006 4:19pm

    Do you think we share the same mother and grandmother?? ( well, I would like to have a young brother living in Paris…)

  • November 26, 2006 4:37pm

    that was so funny i cried :)

    je mets mon commentaire en français d’abord, je traduirai ensuite :)

    avec le reste de confiture de lait, vous pouvez faire une excellente tarte pomme-noix : vous mélangez la confiture de lait, une grosse cuillère a soupe de crème fraiche, un oeuf. vous ajoutez les pommes en lamelles et deux poignées de noix hachées, vous étalez sur une pâte sablée cuite a blanc, et vous faites cuire a four moyen 35mn .

    au sujet des lasagnes, pourquoi ne pas faire des ” canolis ” avec des restes de viande hachée, oignon, fromage etc , en farcissant les tranches en les roulant comme des cigares et en les recouvrant de bechamel ? ça fait un bon plat pour deux :)

    with the leftover of dulce de leche, you can make a nice apple-nuts pie. blend the dulce de leche with a huge spoon of sour cream and one egg. add the slices of apple and crushed nuts.
    fill a pie crust and cook for 35 minutes, medium oven.

    about lasagnas, why don’t you make canolis, with leftovers of meat, onions, cheese, filling the lasagna plaques and rolling them as cigares, covered with bechamel ?
    that would be a nice ” serves two ” :) .

  • November 26, 2006 4:57pm

    Hey David,
    Always a pleasure to share my mom with someone as talented as you, and I know she would agree! 8^)

  • Claire
    November 26, 2006 7:24pm

    Never any leftover dulce de leche in my house. We spread it on toast! It’s a delicious change from confiture.

    David, they sell red-green-white candy corns now (well, I just saw them for the first time over here in Quebec; I suppose they’ve been available in the U.S. for a few years)! That does seem so sacriligous, as I always associated that candy treat, of the orange-yellow-white variety, with halloween. I have not tried the new ones, so don’t know if they’ve changed the unique flavor to something that is more akin to Christmas.

    In a classic article, Art Buchwald humorously explained the holiday of Thanksgiving to the French, using such terms as ‘le jour de merci donnant’ and ‘Kilometres Deboutish’ (for Miles Standish) to help our Francophone friends better understand. You can read it here.

    You’ll surely object to Buchwald’s conclusion that Americans eat better than French on le jour de merci donnant.


  • November 27, 2006 3:19am

    My grandmother is Argentine and a fantastic cook. Whenever she made cannelloni with crepes, she would save some of the crepes and spread them with Dulce de Leche for us grandkids, as a treat. They were heavenly.
    And I love resding your stories and recipes. Just fabulous!

  • November 27, 2006 6:32am

    Well, if you had some apples kicking around, you could make baked apples filled with dulce de leche, which are pretty delicious — but you would, of course, need the exact number of apples to use up the half-jar of dulce de leche. Otherwise the cycle will just continue to perpetuate itself…as it does everywhere, all over my kitchen…

  • Mark
    November 27, 2006 12:53pm

    There is nothing like Dulce de Leche right out of
    the jar or half peanut butter (natural unsweetened), and half nectar of the gods. Thrill me, chill me, fulfill me! ;-)

  • November 27, 2006 2:26pm

    What is the street value of all that shaved black truffle?

  • November 27, 2006 8:21pm

    Ah, truffles… They’re so endearing – and I love them. If only I had the money…

  • kudzu
    November 27, 2006 9:56pm

    I’m with the folks who suggested breaking up the lasagna noodles and cooking them in soup. Right time of year for that. Or you could spend hours with an X-acto knife and make them into tiny kites to fly out your window when the winter winds start to blow.

  • November 28, 2006 9:12am

    LOL – all the more so because I see echoes of myself. Yes, lets buy £10 worth of stuff so we can use up this 50p box of stuff in a recipe. The truffle shavings had me drooling quietly on my keyboard. You lucky man…

  • J.
    November 28, 2006 11:28pm

    Not a lasagna tip but for the person who said they used part other noodles, pasta pies, which I made many of in my time at the deli, can be an alternative and can be made with any old pasta shape you have around. You actually don’t even need to buy lasagna noodles, so might be one way to end the cycle for awhile. To make them you need only cooked pasta, flavourings like onion, garlic, parsley, herbs,sauteed or roasted vegetables, or even truffles, a well seasoned white or cheese sauce, cooked meat or fish bits and some beaten eggs. Mix up,cover the top with cheese of choice and bake.

  • November 29, 2006 1:29am

    The dulce de leche can be used on toast, waffles, pancakes, and even cake! I love it on Chocolate cake! My son prefers it on the previous items. My friend from Argentina mashes some dulce de leche in banana… I did this one morning for my son and the banana was gone when he left for school. I tried it and it is very good. I think this would be good as a filling between layers of Banana cake… Just eating it off the spoon is a nice luxury and a fast dessert for one…caught me… I do this ocassionally around 3:00 in the afternoon with my cup of tea it gives me the sugar buzz I need to face expat son, his moans about homework and sorting out dinner. I always have a can ready to use… In fact I need to make a batch so will be boiling up a few cans… and no I have never had one explode. The trick is to make sure you have enough water to cover the cans while they are boiling… you probably knew this already.

    I always use 1 1/2 boxes of lasagne noodles for 2 pans of lasagne. No problem there is always a half a box left for the next batch.

  • November 29, 2006 3:40pm

    hahah, your post is funny. i am totally the same way in regards to having a problem throwing stuff away. i’ll have some sour cream left, then i go out and get all the ingredients to make coffee cake. and so on. maybe you can cook your leftover lasagne sheets, cut it crosswise for short slices and season it simply with salt, pepper and olive oil. and truffles if you have some.

  • Elizabeth
    November 29, 2006 6:22pm

    Next time you are in the mood to make lasagna, don’t bother with the ricotta. Just layer sheets with bechamel, the sauce of your choice such as a ragu bolognese, torn basil leaves, Parm, etc., ending with sauce, cheese and dots of butter.

  • Joan
    November 29, 2006 6:45pm

    Sounds like a delicious cycle to me.

  • November 30, 2006 4:41pm

    Hysterical! I’m also being stalked by a half empty box of lasagna noodles. I have somehow managed to have one (not the SAME box) in my cupboard since moving back to Paris in 2003. I think Barilla should do something about this.