Sydney's best lasagne?

Author: Maya Kerthyasa
Photography: Byron Keane

How do we love thee, lasagne? Let us count the ways. Melty of cheese, meaty of ragù and all wrapped up in layers of pasta, you're both ancient and of the now, a versatile crowd-pleaser ready to rock a party or enrich a Tuesday night supper. You're as comforting as Italian food can be, and that's pretty cosy. But just how good do you really get?

The good people of the Sydney Italian Wine and Food Festival, which is being held at the Town Hall this Sunday, 14 September, intend to find out.

A lasagne challenge has been thrown down by Ormeggio's Alessandro Pavoni. The festival is taking recipe submissions and Pavoni's picks go through to the finals on the day, where they'll be tasted by the chef plus a panel of restaurant reviewers, including Time Out's Myffy Rigby, the Sydney Morning Herald's Callan Boys and GT's own Pat Nourse.

"Lasagne is a very underrated dish," Pavoni says. "Italians do it better and we do it very well, but we wanted to give people the opportunity to show us how they can do it."

He likes his lasagne as trad as possible - Bolognese, béchamel and plenty of cheese. His advice for people attempting it at home? Don't underestimate its complexity. "Bolognese, which is the core flavour of lasagne, you could say, is a very unique and technical dish to cook," he says. "People think you can do Bolognese in half an hour; it's actually several hours, up to six or eight hours of cooking using particular cuts, mincing the meat yourself."

He suggests choosing secondary cuts and cooking the meat down until it's nearly buttery. "That's one of the most important things because when you eat it you don't want chunky bits of meat which are chewy," he says.

Balance, too, is an important factor in Pavoni's books: "The combination between béchamel and Bolognese has to be perfect - not too much of one or the other. They both have to complement each other very well."

The pasta should be thick enough to retain some texture, and as for the cheese, for Pavoni, it's parmesan or nothing. "It's important, in my point of view, that we use Parmigiano-Reggiano and not mozzarella," he says. "It's a great cheese and I love it, but I think lasagne in particular doesn't need mozzarella in it."

Giovanni Pilu of Pilu at Freshwater, on the other hand, doesn't mind a bit of variation - or mozzarella. "The traditional lasagne is the Bolognese one but I think the whole of Italy has a little spin," he says. "The southerners put mozzarella. My mother-in-law is from Abruzzo and she puts boiled egg grated in between the layers and some spinach and I love it."

If there's one thing they both agree on, though, it's what they don't want to see in a lasagne. "No pineapple," Pavoni says.

Steer clear of the deep-fryer, too. "Never, ever fry lasagne," says Pilu. "That's crazy stuff."

Sydney Italian Wine and Food Festival, 14 September, Lower Town Hall, Sydney. For tickets and more information visit the SIWFF website.

Need some inspiration? Here's one of our favourite lasange recipes.

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