Lasagna is the ultimate Italian comfort food and it’s the perfect make-ahead meal to enjoy on busy weekdays or even laid back weekends. Tender pasta noodles are layered with a delicious meat sauce, creamy ricotta, and mozzarella.
When a hot and bubbly baking dish filled with homemade lasagna hits the dinner table, it’s guaranteed to disappear fast! Multiple layers of noodles, cheese, and sauce are the best kind of edible architecture. I like to treat my Italian family with this comfort food because it always brings smiles at the end of a long day.
Using convenient pantry staples makes preparation easy, while effortlessly bumping up the flavor of the meat sauce and cheese layers. Ripe canned tomatoes and dried herbs help to instantly boost the flavor. If you’re in a pinch for time, make the layers in advance and bake when you’re ready to serve, it’s a game-changer!
Tips for the best meat sauce
I didn’t have all day to simmer a homemade marinara sauce, so I opted for convenient pantry ingredients. I use two canned products; tomato paste and crushed tomatoes. The concentrated pulp provides sweetness and helps to thicken the sauce. I use Cento crushed tomatoes imported from Italy because the fruit used is ripe, has a soft acidity, and provides an authentic flavor.
I use two types of meat, lean ground beef, and pork Italian sausage. The combination creates a deeper savory flavor and a more interesting texture. The fat from the sausage prevents the meat from drying out. The sauce simmers with olive oil, garlic, onions, dried Italian seasonings like oregano, basil, and thyme for about 30 minutes to meld the flavors together.
Use three types of cheese
Multiple Italian kinds of cheese are used for the lasagna; mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta. I use Mozzarella for its mild flavor and high moisture, so when it melts it gives thick stringy cheese pulls and browns nicely. This is added as its own separate layer to hold the casserole layers together.
For the filling, I use aged parmesan cheese to give a nutty pungent taste, along with sweet creamy ricotta cheese. If you like, you can substitute cottage cheese for the ricotta and it will have a more savory flavor, the large curds are also softer instead of grainy.
Wide lasagna noodles create large flat layers which make it easy to spread other toppings. This type of pasta is cooked until al dente so it holds the shape, it will eventually soak up more liquid from the sauce and tenderize it further during baking. After removing from the boiling water, place them on a sheet tray in a single layer between clean kitchen towels to keep them from sticking together.
For an irresistible creaminess to the baked pasta, make a delicious cheesy herb filling. I use a combination of ricotta cheese for the base, parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, and eggs. The eggs help to bind the filling together and it also puffs up when baking to keep the mixture light instead of too dense in texture. This mixture is added between the layers of noodles.
Layering the ingredients
I use a 13 by 9-inch baking dish to hold all the ingredients. Start with adding some tomato sauce to the bottom in order to prevent sticking. Each layer is built by laying out three to four overlapping pieces of cooked noodles then evenly spreading the ricotta cheese mixture, meat sauce, and mozzarella cheese. Then repeat! This layering pattern will keep the layers from sliding apart during serving.
It takes about 45 minutes to bake the lasagna at 375ºF (190ºC). I loosely cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes to get the layers heated through and to cook the raw egg in the filling. To ensure that the mozzarella cheese layers are fully melted and the surface gets slightly golden brown in color, remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes.
You can broil the lasagna for a few minutes right before removing from the oven for an extra browned crust. As much as you’d like to dive right into the pasta, it’s best to let it cool down. It’s easier to cut the layers in attractive slices when it’s not steaming hot and the layers have a chance to settle and pack together.
Make-ahead and storing
Lasagna is an excellent meal prep option. You can assemble all of the layers in the baking dish several days in advance then bake the day you’re ready to serve. This lasagna recipe makes 12 generous servings and tastes even better the next day too.
I cut leftovers into individual pieces and wrap them up and place in the freezer, or pack them in containers for lunch. Any shortcuts to have a hot meal for dinner with little effort is a win for all!
Benefits of simmering tomato sauce
There are two advantages to simmering meat in a tomato sauce. The slow, low heat of simmering allows the flavors to concentrate as the sauce reduces. The natural acids in the tomatoes (malic and citric acid) help to tenderize the meat gently over time while the meat infuses flavor into the sauce.
Pin this recipe to save for laterPin This
Lasagna with Meat Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1 pound ground beef, 90% lean
- 6 ounces Italian sausage, fresh, casing removed, mild or spicy
- 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 56 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 4 quarts water
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, for pasta water
- 1 pound lasagna noodles
- 2 large eggs, lightly whisked
- 32 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound mozzarella cheese, freshly shredded
- Set the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190ºC).
- In a large pan heat olive oil over medium-low heat and sauté onion and garlic until onions are translucent about 3 minutes.
- Turn heat to medium-high, add beef and sausage to the pan. Break the meat up into smaller pieces and cook until no traces of pink remain, about 5 minutes. Season meat with 1 ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper.
- Add tomato paste and stir until combined, cook for 1 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as desired.
- Bring water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until al dente, about 8 minutes. Carefully remove the lasagna noodles and transfer them to a sheet pan lined with clean kitchen towels. Place them in a single layer, to keep them from sticking together. Set aside until ready to use.
- In a medium-sized bowl whisk together eggs, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and chopped parsley.
- Reserve about 1 cup of meat sauce and 1 cup of grated mozzarella cheese for topping the lasagna. Lightly coat a 13-inch by 9-inch baking dish with oil. Add just enough sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the dish to prevent sticking.
- Layer 3 to 4 sheets of lasagna, top with ⅓ of ricotta cheese mixture, ⅓ meat sauce, and ⅓ of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat for 2 more layers. On the top layer pour the reserved meat sauce and cover evenly with the reserved mozzarella cheese.
- Line a sheet tray with foil and place the lasagna tray on top. Loosely cover with foil, making sure not to touch the top with the cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil. Bake until the cheese is hot and bubbly on top, about 15 minutes. The lasagna can be brolied for a few minutes right before removing from the oven for an extra browned crust.
- Before slicing, allow the lasagna to rest for 15 minutes.
- Smaller Pan: If using an 8-inch by 11-inch size, use 3 noodles for each layer. Four layers can be made instead of three if desired. The lasagna will be nice and tall.
- Make-Ahead: The lasagna can be assembled 3 days in advance, then bake the day you are ready to serve. Bake covered for 40 minutes, then 15 minutes uncovered.
- Storing and Reheating: The lasagna can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Reheat slices in the microwave until warmed through, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
Want to save this recipe?
Create an account easily save your favorite content, so you never forget a recipe again.
Tried this recipe?
Tag @jessica_gavin on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!