In erthen pot put brothe for hast;
Take floure of payndemayn, and make þy past
With water, þer of þy fele þou make
With a roller, and drye hit, I undurtake
Aȝayne þo sonne þat hit be harde;
Kast þerin brothe and make rewarde;
To sethe hom take rawe chese anone
And grate hit in disshes mony on
With powder dowce; and lay þer in
þy loseyns abofe þe chese with wynne,
And powder on last spryngil hit þou may;
þose loysyns er harde to make in fay.
This rhyming recipe was written in Middle English, around 1420-1440, in the Liber cure Cocorum. You can see a 19th-century transcription of it here at Google Books, and here at Greg Lindahl’s website. The latter site also has a modern translation by Cindy Renfrow.
Basically, the recipe in the Liber cure Cocorum is this: Make dried pasta. Cook the dried pasta in broth. Grate cheese into a dish, add powder douce (a common medieval spice mixture), layer cooked pasta on the cheese/spice mixture, top with powder douce. The recipe ends by saying, essentially, “these loysyns are hard to make, really.”
And yet, they don’t really seem to be. I’ve cooked it twice so far, and both times the results have been really tasty. This is the recipe that is often called “medieval lasagne,” and a few years ago there was some fuss about whether this indicated that lasagne was of British origin. (Not particularly. But the dish is certainly similar.)
Loseyns are also found in The Forme of Cury, a 1390 cookbook by the cooks of King Richard II’s household. With no need to make their recipes rhyme, the loseyns recipe in this book has a few more details:
“Take gode broth and do in an erthen pot, take flour of payndemayn and make þereof past with water. and make þereof thynne foyles as paper with a roller, drye it harde and seeþ it in broth take Chese ruayn grated and lay it in disshes with powdour douce. and lay þeron loseyns isode as hoole as þou mizt. and above powdour and chese, and so twyse or thryse, & serve it forth.”
Here it is as I would put it in Modern English:
“Put good broth in an earthen pot. Take white bread flour and water, and make thin sheets of pasta with a roller. Dry the pasta. Then cook it in broth. Grate mild cheese, and put it in a dish with powder douce. Lay pasta on the cheese, cooked as much as you like. Layer cheese and powder above that, and repeat this two or three times. Then serve it.”
(Notice it doesn’t tell you to bake it. If you work really quickly, with very hot pasta, the pasta melts the cheese somewhat and it’s actually pretty good without baking! But I find it easier just to go ahead and bake it. Perhaps the hard part referred to by the author of the Liber cure Cocorum was getting the whole thing put together before the pasta cooled.)
Here’s a rough version adapted from the Forme of Cury version. Unfortunately, in a fine medieval style, I haven’t really measured my ingredients when I’ve made this, so the quantities are a little vague:
- Lasagna noodles, enough to layer several times in your baking dish (I don’t recommend “oven-ready” noodles — when I tried them, they failed because there wasn’t quite enough moisture in the recipe. The noodles were crunchy in the center of the pan, though they cooked well on the edges.)
- Plenty of mild cheese (I have used a medium cheddar with good results)
- Broth (chicken broth would be fine. I use good vegetarian broth with a touch of garlic.)
- Powder douce (mine is a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, sugar, cloves, and nutmeg. I make the mixture myself.)
Preheat oven to 350F. Grate cheese. Cook lasagne noodles in broth, then drain. Put some grated cheese in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle on some powder douce to taste. Layer cooked lasagne noodles over the cheese. Repeat about three times, alternating cheese/powder douce with noodles. Finish with a layer of cheese and powder douce. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes or until it is bubbly and nicely golden brown on top.
The powder douce is a combination of flavors we think of in very sweet foods — it makes a killer cinnamon toast — and so the first time I made this, I thought that it might not taste good with the cheese. But it’s wonderful. And despite the complaint by the author of the Liber cure Cocorum, it’s not difficult. Boil pasta, grate cheese, layer the two, bake. You can’t get much simpler.