Ex-restaurateur offers up 'Charleston Lasagne'


Spoleto Festival is here, and the creative juices are bubbling up all around. In our case, the stage is the kitchen.

We're revisiting lasagna with artichokes this week thanks to Celia Cerasoli of North Charleston.

Yes, that's Celia of Celia's Porta Via fame. The neighborhood bistro at 49 Archdale St. in downtown Charleston had an avid local following for 15 years before closing in 1999. Her signature dish was an ethereal 30-layer lasagna.

I contacted Celia last week in search of a recipe for Mary Gainey of West Ashley, who was reading a book that included a mention of lasagna “carciofi,” or lasagna with artichokes and a bechamel sauce. That got Cerasoli stirred up, cooking-wise, and she said she wanted to experiment with some dishes over the weekend.

What she came up with is an ingenious “Charleston Lasagne” (she spells it with an “e”). She thought about that old party appetizer favorite, baked artichoke dip. It showed up at nearly every social affair in Charleston during the 1980s and '90s, gooey rich with mayo, sour cream or cream cheese and lots of parmesan cheese. Oh, and artichoke hearts, too. So the Charleston Lasagne is a riff on that dip.

She also played around with a quick lasagne inspired by a marinara sauce with artichokes made years ago by “Chef Ted” at her restaurant.

Before getting to these recipes, some folks may be interested to know that Ce lia's Handmade Lasagne, like the one she served at the restaurant, is available again by order. Visit www.celiasof charleston.com to learn more.

Celia emailed her two “new” recipes at the beginning of last week. “I had a blast doing it!” she said of her R&D.

She loved the taste of the Charleston Lasagne, but she wondered how much it had to do with her homemade pasta versus dry noodles in the box. However, she realizes the vast majority of people aren't making their own pasta, and the recipe reflects that. She wrote, “Italy meets the South in this unique lasagne, combining a favorite Charleston recipe for cocktail hour, and an ages-old Italian tradition!”

Serves 6 Ingredients 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

4 ounces cream cheese 1/2 cup mayonnaise with olive oil (see cook's note)

1 teaspoon granulated garlic 3 to 4 tablespoons of fresh herbs (see cook's note)

Cracked pepper to taste 11/2 cups whole milk ricotta

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream

Lasagne noodles Spray olive oil or butter to grease pan

1 to 2 teaspoons of Italian breadcrumbs

Cook's notes: Celia used Hellmann's brand mayonnaise with olive oil. For the herbs, she used fresh lemon thyme, but also recommends basil, mint, thyme or Italian parsley, or a mixture of them.

Directions Put artichokes in a medium mixing bowl and crush with the back of a fork. Add the 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and the cream cheese, mayonnaise, garlic, herbs and pepper and mix well.

In another medium mixing bowl, combine ricotta, the ¼ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and heavy cream, and mix well.

Cook lasagne sheets according to package directions, using enough to fill an 8x8-inch pan. Spread out cooked pasta on clean kitchen towels or on parchment.

Coat the bottom of an 8x8-inch pan with spray olive oil or butter. Cover bottom of pan with a layer of cooked lasagne, overlapping slightly.

Spread 1/3 cup ricotta mixture over the pasta, all the way to the edges. Place another layer of pasta on top of the ricotta filling. Spread 1/3 cup artichoke filling on that layer. Continue in this manner until ending with the last of the artichoke filling.

Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top layer.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes, until breadcrumbs are golden and sides start to puff up. Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting.

As for her “quick lasagne,” Celia prepared it with no-boil lasagna noodles. She recommends the Barilla brand.

She noted that she had to dilute the sauce for the no-boil pasta, which also diluted the tomato taste more than she liked.

She didn't have time to retest the dish but suggested that adding a little tomato paste to the sauce would remedy the issue.

She writes, “If anyone told me I could make a wonderful lasagne with just a few store-bought products, in just a few minutes, without even turning on my stovetop, I would never have believed them.”

Serves 6 Ingredients 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup drained and rinsed capers

2 cups marinara sauce 2 cups water

1 box Barilla no-boil lasagne sheets (some will be left over)

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions Put artichokes in a medium mixing bowl and break apart with your fingers. Add capers, sauce and water.

The sauce will seem very liquidy, but this is necessary for the pasta to cook properly.

Put some of the liquid sauce on the bottom of an 8x8-inch pan (trying to avoid the bits of artichoke). Place two dry pasta sheets on top, side by side, overlapping slightly. Cover them with more sauce, spreading the artichoke bits and capers evenly. Sprinkle with some of the cheese.

Cover with two more pasta sheets in the opposite direction. Repeat with sauce and cheese until you reach the top of the pan.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 50 minutes at 375 degrees.

Uncover pan, sprinkle with a bit more cheese and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting.

If there's a recipe you've lost, have memories of or a dish you are just wondering about, let us know. Email Food Editor Teresa Taylor at food@postandcourier.com.