Lasagna is the perfect make-ahead meal to feed a hungry family. Tender pasta layered with a beef and pork meat sauce, creamy ricotta, and mozzarella.
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When a hot and bubbly baking dish filled with homemade lasagna hits the dinner table, it’s guaranteed to disappear fast! Multiple layers of pasta, cheese, and sauce are the best kind of edible architecture. I like to treat my Italian family to 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 boost the flavor instantly. If you’re in a pinch for time, make the layers in advance and bake when ready to serve!
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 is ripe, has a soft acidity, and provides an authentic flavor.
I use two types of meat: lean ground beef and pork sausage. The combination creates a deep savory flavor and a more interesting texture. The fat from the Italian sausage prevents the meat from drying out. The sauce simmers with olive oil, garlic, onions, and dried Italian seasonings like oregano, basil, and thyme for about 30 minutes to meld the flavors together.
Use three types of cheese
This easy homemade lasagna recipe uses multiple kinds of cheese: mozzarella, parmesan, and ricotta. I use mozzarella for its mild flavor and high moisture, so it gives thick stringy cheese pulls and browns nicely when it melts. This is added as a separate layer to hold the casserole 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 ricotta, which 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 pasta is cooked until al dente, so it holds its shape. It will eventually soak up more liquid from the sauce and tenderize it further during baking. After removing them 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 cheesy herb filling. I use a combination of ricotta cheese for the base, parmesan cheese, chopped fresh parsley, and eggs. The eggs help bind the filling together and puff 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 by adding some tomato sauce to the bottom 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 dish from sliding apart during serving.
It takes 45 minutes to bake the lasagna at 375ºF (190ºC). I loosely cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil, bake for 30 minutes to get the layers heated and cook the raw egg in the filling. To ensure that the mozzarella cheese layers are fully melted and the surface gets slightly golden brown, remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes.
You can broil a few minutes before removing it from the oven for an extra browned crust. As much as you’d like to dive right away, it’s best to let it cool down. It’s easier to cut the layers into beautiful slices when it’s not steaming hot, and the layers can settle and pack together.
Make-ahead and storing
Lasagna is an excellent meal prep option. You can assemble all the layers in the baking dish several days in advance and then bake the day you’re ready to serve. This recipe makes 12 generous servings and tastes even better the next day.
I cut leftovers into individual pieces and wrap them up and place in the freezer, or pack them in containers for lunch. Any shortcut to having 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 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.
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Homemade Lasagna Recipe
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1 pound ground beef, 80 to 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
- Preheat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190ºC).
- Saute the Aromatics – In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat and sauté onion and garlic until onions are translucent about 3 minutes.
- Brown the Meat – Turn the heat to medium-high, and add beef and sausage to the pan. Break the meat into smaller pieces and cook until no traces of pink remain, about 5 minutes. Season with 1 ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper.
- Simmer the Sauce – Add tomato paste and stir until combined. Cook for 1 minute. 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.
- Boil the Pasta – Bring water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Cook the lasagna according to package directions, occasionally stirring to prevent sticking, until al dente, about 8 minutes. Carefully remove the pasta and transfer it 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.
- Make the Cheese Mixture – In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together eggs, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and chopped parsley.
- Prep the Baking Dish – Reserve about 1 cup of 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 enough sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the dish to prevent sticking.
- Layer the Lasagna – Layer 3 to 4 sheets of lasagna, top with ⅓ of the ricotta cheese mixture, ⅓ meat sauce, and ⅓ of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat for 2 more layers. On the top layer, pour the reserved sauce and cover evenly with the reserved mozzarella cheese.
- Bake the Casserole – Line a sheet tray with foil and place the baking dish on top. Loosely cover the dish with foil, making sure not to touch the cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil. Continue baking until the cheese is hot and bubbly, about 15 minutes. The lasagna can be broiled for a few minutes for an extra browned crust.
- Let it Cool – Before slicing and serving, 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 baked the day you are ready to serve. Bake covered for 40 minutes, then for 15 minutes uncovered.
- Storing and Reheating: Refrigerate for up to 5 days. Reheat slices in the microwave until warmed through, about 1 to 1 ½ minutes.
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