RIVOLI – Yes, 2013 is the year of the lasagna. We are not only talking about the infamous horse-laced lasagnas, which will soon be a distant memory. For there is also some high-flying lasagnas that will literally soon be in orbit.

The lasagna will be accompanied by pesto risotto, eggplant Parmesan, caponata siciliana (another eggplant dish) and tiramisu. This menu was created using traditional Italian ingredients in an innovative way by Italian chef Davide Scabin. The delicious fare will be taken up to the International Space Station, via a Soyuz spacecraft.

Italian recipes, space edition - Photo: Erica Brunelli

Scabin, an iconoclastic and geeky food design pioneer has a restaurant in Rivoli, on the outskirts of Turin, in an extension of the Museum of Contemporary Art. You could say his cuisine itself is contemporary art – he has two stars in the Michelin guide.

Scabin is the inventor of the “cyberegg” and the liquid “zuppizza” – an irreverent and subtle reinterpretation of the Italian repertoire. His original take on cooking is the reason why a supplier for the European Space Agency contacted him two years ago.

Fascinated by the project, the chef worked with researchers from Parma, Italy, and Germany to create meals that were then sent to Houston for testing. This special mission will also break another record, as it will be the first time an Italian walks in space. No, even though he is an explorer of sorts, Scabin isn’t accompanying his lasagna into space.

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano will spend six months working on the Space Station, bringing the lasagna with him. Lift-off is planned for May 28, from Baikonur, Russia.

Luca Parmitano will be the first Italian to walk in space (and eat lasagna there) - Photo: Missione Volare

The first challenge for Scabin was to eliminate or drastically reduce salt from the recipes, because astronauts are prone to fluid retention. “The maximum amount of salt by ration is 0.5 grams,” says the chef, “so I used stronger flavors, Parmesan or a little soy, powdered tomato together with fresh tomato.”

Strong and concentrated flavors are all the more important because in a weightlessness state, “our perception of flavor is significantly diminished,” says Scabin.

Keep it light

After many experiments, some meals were dehydrated; others sterilized or thermo-stabilized in order to withstand the sorts of pressure and temperatures they will encounter in space.

The other challenge was to keep it light – to reduce volumes and minimize waste. The 250 rations will be stored in ultralight aluminum bags with valves for rehydration.

Each meal has been tasted and approved by the crews. They liked it so much that the American astronauts also ordered the Italian menu.

“These meals remind me of my mamma’s cooking -- comfort food is better than any antidepressant,” said Scabin.