Monitor follow-up: Why did our taste-testers reject the 'real' lasagna?

We examine the reasons our panel preferred the saltier, from-a-jar version.

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A number of readers have written to the Monitor in response to the video that accompanied "The Monitor's Lasagna Bake-off" on Jan. 30.

Watching assistant photo editor Joanne Ciccarello slave away for hours in her kitchen, only to lose the taste test (4 to 1) to dueling features editor Vic Roberts elicited some concern among readers for Ms. Ciccarello's feelings: She's fine.

But we were curious, too, about why a truly authentic version of the dish had fared so poorly among our tasters. Ms. Ciccarello hardly seemed surprised, though. The key, she says, is in the "gravy" (sauce). The sauce for the winning lasagna – from a jar – contains corn syrup. It also has a generous dose of salt (and oregano, which Ciccarello and other purists claim is only for pizza sauce). Most Americans have grown used to the salty, sweet taste of processed foods.

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During the four hours it takes to make her sauce from scratch, Ciccarello explains, the acidity from the tomatoes is cooked out, leaving a milder taste. Italians, at least in her family, say the emphasis in lasagna is not on the sauce. "Traditionalists enjoy the delicate flavors of the pasta and cheeses and feel too much gravy overpowers the balance," says Ciccarello. This could also explain why some taste testers found her lasagna "dry."

A confession: The fact that the editors conducting the taste test forgot to add the extra sauce Ciccarello provided might have something to do with it, too. We also forgot to present the (delicious!) meatballs, which were to be served on the side.

But these culinary missteps haven't dissuaded some readers from conducting their own taste test. "We made the Simple & Quick lasagna on that Friday. We loved it," writes Sharon Douglas of Springfield, Ore. Others weren't convinced. "Sundays were for church, cooking, and family," writes Vincent Colantuono, from Maybrook, N.Y. Sauce or gravy, it didnt matter, but never from a jar.

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