Let’s talk about comfort food.
I think we can all agree that there’s nothing better after a long day than tucking into a warm, familiar, home cooked meal, right? There are definitely days in my life where a simple grilled cheese and tomato soup or a fish finger sandwich with ketchup completely hit the spot.
Imagine my surprise, then, when moving from the USA to the UK when I realised that some of my comfort foods weren’t the same. A British coffee cake and an American coffee cake taste completely different! Chili (USA) and chilli (UK) are not only spelled differently, they’re made differently. What’s a hungry girl to do?
Let me introduce my UK vs USA recipe challenge, a series of pieces aiming to expose these variances, and give Americans and Brits alike a chance to spice-up their comfort food life, and decide which side of the pond wins the food battle.
Today’s contestant is the humble lasagne. Italian in origin, baked to melty perfection, this mighty meal pulls its weight against the biggest of appetites. But the way it’s made varies between the US and UK. For the sake of fairness and consistency, I turned to AllRecipes.com and AllRecipes.co.uk as my sources for recipe information – country-specific versions of the same international recipe databases.
If you don’t want to try to make your own version of the UK/USA lasagne battle, try this Waitrose version for a tasty English-style treat
I have selected the World’s Best Lasagna to sit in the US corner, not just because it’s title showcases American confidence perfectly, but also because it shows that even the spelling of this comfort meal classic can be different. For the UK recipe choice, we have the nice catch-all Basic Lasagne Recipe which does what it says on the tin; it’s easy, it’s Italian, it’s tasty.
So what’s so different – other than an ‘e’ and an ‘a’? I looked at the ingredients, a few big things stood out. First – both recipes agreed that beef mince was the way to go, though the Americans added Italian sausage meat and called it ‘ground beef’. Garlic, tomato, and onion were also consistent across both countries. There were tiny differences in spices, with Americans boosting the flavour with Italian seasoning, parsley, basil, and fennel seeds. Brits stuck with basic oregano – the hint was in the recipe title.
For me, though, the most incredible difference between is the part in between the sheets (of pasta that is). American pasta is layered with meat, tomato, pasta, and a thick cheesey blend of ricotta, Parmesan and mozzarella.
But your basic British lasagne goes with a lighter white sauce between the layers, saving the cheese for just on top.
‘That’s nothing’, you might be saying to yourself, but the taste and texture changes are significant. A British lasagne is less caloric (great!), but thinner and less fluffy. It also tends to be served with chips on the side – an affront to my American sensibilities. Because for me a lasagne is thick, filling and stands alone on a plate, with only a side salad required if you’re starving.
I’ve got a serious love for the American version with its layers of cheese and abundance of spices – that would be my winner – but my mother (American, in America) will always make the British version after her last visit. She swears by its fresh and light flavours. So I’ll have to declare this battle a tie.
Fights aside though, I do find these subtle differences in classic recipes so interesting, and I’m sure with the more comfort food I tuck into this winter, the more differences I’ll find.