Comfort Food, Canada Style

Taddle Creek’s resident caker cook whips up a lasagna so strong and free, two out of two nonnas deem it serviceable.

Winter, 2018–2019 / No. 42
Photo by Tom Hicken
Tom Hicken

When it comes to comfort food, lasagna is up there with hash browns and orange macaroni salad. But not just any lasagna—I’m talking Canadian lasagna, packed with layers of noodles, mozzarella cheese, and ground beef. Not everyone is a fan of Canadian lasagna, specifically my Italian in-laws, who often force me to listen to all the ways dishes from their home country have been bastardized by Canadians. (Apparently, pretzel-crust pizza isn’t a thing in Rome.) I suppose there are a few untraditional ingredients Canadians put into their lasagna, like canned mushrooms and, well, cottage cheese, but that doesn’t mean Canadian lasagna isn’t damn tasty. This recipe was submitted by Irene Whitmore to the community cookbook From Our Kitchens . . . With Love, published by the Glen Ayr United Church Women. Irene is listed as the president of the U.C.W. executive, 1976–1978, which I’m guessing is the time frame the book came out. It’s obvious Irene was a woman who got things done.

Easy Canadian Style Lasagna

Ingredients

Sauce:

2 tablespoons oil

½ cup chopped onion

450 grams ground beef

2 796-millilitre cans diced tomatoes

2 156-millilitre cans tomato paste

1½ teaspoons salt

pepper

½ teaspoon oregano

I added two cans of drained mushrooms, because that’s what my mom used to do.

Lasagna:

12 lasagna noodles, cooked in salted water and rinsed in cold water

450 grams mozzarella, shredded

grated Parmesan cheese

500 grams cottage cheese

Directions

1. Brown onions in oil. Remove onions and add ground beef to pan, browning slightly. Add all the other sauce ingredients and simmer one hour, stirring occasionally.

2. Spread some sauce in the bottom of a nine-by-thirteen-inch pan. Add a layer of four noodles, followed by a layer of mozzarella and cottage cheese. Add a layer of sauce. Then another layer of noodles. Add a layer of cheese, then sauce, then noodles, then cheese, then . . . well, you get the idea.

3. Top it off with a final layer of mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about a half hour, until the cheese is melted and contents are bubbling.

Having made this, I have a few bones to pick with Irene. Her so-called Easy Canadian Style Lasagna wasn’t so easy. I started making it at eleven-fifteen in the morning and didn’t pull the damn thing out of the oven until 1:52 p.m. And just try lifting a twenty-pound lasagna. Let’s also not forget assembling those layers requires concentration. I don’t recommend making it if you’re easily distracted or have poor hand-eye co-ordination.

All this said, I’m pledging allegiance to U.C.W. president Irene, because her Easy Canadian Style Lasagna was the bomb. Beefy, packed with flavour, and more layered than my last relationship—Irene’s recipe had me smacking my lips. Don’t take my word for it. I taste-tested my Easy Canadian Style Lasagna on a pair of Italian nonnas. What did they think? “If you hadn’t told me this was made by a Canadian, I wouldn’t have known,” said one. “Not that it was great. There was too much meat.” The other nonna recommended skipping the tomato paste and using San Marzano tomatoes. “Otherwise, not bad,” she said. “For a Canadian lasagna.”

O.K., not exactly glowing, but it could’ve been worse, especially considering they crossed themselves before tasting it. Serve this lasagna at your next Sunday meal (along with an iceberg lettuce salad topped with French dressing and toasted hamburger buns sprinkled with garlic powder). I guarantee your guests will say “Grazie!

Photo by Tom Hicken
Photo by Tom Hicken
Photo by Tom Hicken
Photo by Tom Hicken

Brian Francis recently published a memoir, Missed Connections. His most recent novel, Break in Case of Emergency, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards. He writes a monthly advice column for Quill and Quire, and is a regular columnist for CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter. Last updated summer, 2021.