- Make homemade pasta and cut into noodles (or buy ready-made lasagne noodles from the store)
- Make a meat sauce (ragu) with olive oil, vegetables chopped fresh, tomato paste, sieved tomatoes, ground beef and pork (optional).
- Make a bechamel sauce (white sauce) with butter, milk, nutmeg, parmesan cheese and flour.
- Assemble the lasagna noodles in layers in your baking dish, stacking the noodles evenly and applying the meat and bechamel sauces until you run out.
- Top the final layer with some torn mozzarella cheese and the last of the bechamel sauce.
- Bake in an oven at 350F for approximately 45 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.
- Let rest for 20 minutes before serving.
I just love lasagna. To me, it’s the definition of comfort food. (Even reheated lasagna) It’s just such a good, fulfilling, deliciously cheesy dish that is both deeply satisfying and incredibly addictive-- layers upon layers of various kinds of cheese, pasta and meat sauce makes for an incredible dining experience. One of the all time great dinner recipes.
For myself, and I suspect for a lot of people, it goes even beyond the inherent qualities of the dish itself. My Mom used to make lasagna every other Sunday when I was a kid, so its aroma and taste immediately transports me to happy memories of sitting around the table with my family. It’s like a delicious time machine… made of cheese and pasta.
Knowing how to make a good lasagna is always a valuable skill to have. It may be a little time-consuming -- there are a lot of steps to the process, especially if you’re making your own noodles -- but it is infinitely rewarding. Think of it as a project! And at the very end, you’re rewarded with a delicious meal. An incredible feast of cheese, pasta, meat and sauce.
Whether you have your own personal connection with this delectable casserole or not, its enduring appeal is simply undeniable, and it is a perennial favorite at potlucks and get-togethers. And homemade lasagna is better than any frozen lasagna you can get!
You can acquire some valuable kitchen skills, and start building those happy memories of your own, with this easy lasagna recipe.
1. What is the difference between lasagna and lasagne?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen the words “lasagna” and “lasagne” and spent a long time thinking one was a misspelling of the other. Of course, you weren’t exactly sure which was correct, but you figured you’d just use them interchangeably until somebody pointed our your error. I mean, it’s gotta be one or the other, right?
Turns out things are a little messier than that, but we’re here to help you make sense of it.
There are a couple of variables to take into consideration. One of them is language, and the other is the difference between the dish (the aforementioned many-layered casserole) and the pasta itself. Let’s start by talking about how things are in Italian.
In Italian, a lasagna (singular, ending in -a) is a single sheet of the pasta we use to make the dish. The dish itself is made up of many sheets of this pasta, so it follows that the name of the dish in correct Italian is plural: lasagne (ending in -e). So any time you say “lasagne” in Italian, you are referring to the dish, which contains multiple sheets of pasta (hence, plural form). In Italy, this would be a “lasagne recipe”.
Now let’s talk about English. At some point when the dish started to become known in the English-speaking parts of the world, the distinction between the plural lasagne and the singular lasagna started to break down, to the point where the word started being used exclusively in the singular.
To complicate things further, there’s a difference between how the word is spelled between British English and American English. In British English, the dish is most commonly spelled as lasagne (though still pronounced as “lasagna”), whereas American English both writes and pronounces the word as if it were a singular (“lasagna”).
It may be a little confusing to wrap your head around, but to simplify, we’ll be referring to the dish as lasagna from here on out, and to the pasta as “lasagna noodles”. Even though if we get into the technical definition of the word “noodle,” they may not entirely qualify. Language is fun!
2. A brief history of lasagna
Whatever you grew up calling this bubbling beautiful dish, you might be interested to know that it didn’t actually originate in Italy!
That’s right. The dish made of stacked layers of pasta, olive oil, meat and tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and various other ingredients has all the markings of a classic Italian dish. And indeed, Italians were the ones who perfected it, shaping it into its glorious current incarnation. In that sense, the great people of Italy deserve the lions’ share of the credit. But it’s not where the dish first came from!
It is believed that the traditional lasagna actually originated in Ancient Greece, long before it became an Italian staple. The word is derived from the Greek “Laganon,” the very earliest known form of pasta. And Laganon bears some resemblance to what we know as lasagna -- it was layers of pasta and pasta sauce -- but it wasn’t lasagna as we now understand it. The word was used to describe flat dough that was sliced in strips. No ground beef, sausage or mozzarella cheese in sight.
The dish rose to prominence in Italy during the Middle Ages, most famously associated with the city of Naples. As time went on, the dish continued to evolve and incorporate other elements, such as tomato sauce, sausage, meatballs, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and even hard-boiled eggs. It would then be sauced with a Neapolitan marinara sauce.
And while a mix of meatballs, sausage, tomato sauce, meatballs and cheese sounds very much like lasagna, there was still a lot of room to grow.
As with any combination of food, time, and geography, the dish started to evolve as it made its way through the land; the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy saw the birth of Lasagne al forno, which is layered with a Béchamel sauce. And as its popularity grew, so did its various offshoots and variants, with people incorporating various meats, vegetables, cottage cheese (or any cheese) and seasonings.
It’s common for extremely popular dishes to have murky and disputed origins, usually crowded with apocryphal stories (just look at our article on pizza dough). Lasagna is no exception. Wherever it came from, we can only be grateful to have it in our lives.
3. Ingredients you’ll need to make a lasagna
Now that we know the different ways to spell it as well as a bit about its origins, let’s talk about how to actually make an incredible lasagna that will blow everyone away. And though there are many varieties -- there’s eggplant lasagna, recipes that incorporate other meats like sausage or even a chicken lasagna, a type that is made with a ricotta cheese mixture -- we’ll be sticking to a classic lasagna recipe today.
This classic lasagna recipe uses ricotta cheese, grated parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese, but there are many variants that incorporate other cheeses.
Of course, there are several elements to consider in a lasagna recipe: the lasagna noodles, the meat sauce, the bechamel sauce, the assembly, and the baking. Let’s take it one step at a time.
To be as thorough as possible, first we’ll cover how to make homemade layer of noodles and then we’ll show you how to put it all together in its classic tiered and mouthwatering cheese-meat-and-sauce presentation.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for your homemade lasagna.
14 oz 00’ Flour
4 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large finely chopped carrot
1 large finely chopped celery
1 large finely chopped white onion
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork (optional)
2.5 cups sieved tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cups red wine
6 cups beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes and pepper
5 tablespoon unsalted butter
5 tablespoon all-purpose flour all-purpose
4 cups full fat milk
1/2 tablespoon nutmeg
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes and pepper
2 balls of mozzarella cheese
1 lb lasagna sheets (if you’re not making your own)
4. How to make lasagna noodles
You could buy ready-made dried lasagna noodles from your grocery store -- there is absolutely no shame in that. They are convenient and also quite delicious. But if you’ve ever had homemade pasta, you know there’s something quite special about it -- although it does take considerably longer.
Note that for this process you will need a pasta machine!
Place the flour on a clean work surface and make a “well” indentation in the middle. Once you’ve done this, add in the eggs. Use a fork to whisk the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour until it combines and forms into a rough dough.
Use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball shape. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, at which point it should feel smooth and quite pliable. Now wrap the dough in cling film and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Once it’s rested, it’s time to roll it out. In order to make the process easier, cut the dough in half and flatten it with the palm of your hand, that way it will fit through the first setting on the pasta machine without any problems.
Pass the dough through the widest setting and fold one side over the other, flattening it with the palm of your hand so that it will fit. Roll it through again. We’ll repeat this process, folding the sides in and passing it through the widest setting, four or five times. At that point, you should be able to pass the dough through each setting once, from first to second last.
Then it’s just a matter of cutting the fresh lasagne sheets to the right size to fit your dish, and voila. You’ve made your very own lasagna noodles that you’ll soon be stacking on top of each other with sauce and cheese.
5. How to make the meat sauce (ragu)
There are many variants of lasagna, as we’ve established -- many of them are even vegetarian (vegetable lasagna is actually quite delicious). Some are made with marinara or spaghetti sauce. But for this lasagna recipe, which is a classic Lasagna al forno, we absolutely need a good homemade meat sauce. Here’s how to make it.
Like a lot of Italian sauces, like marinara, we begin with what Italians refer to as “Il Soffritto” -- finely chopped carrot, celery and white onion sauteed for about 10 minutes with some olive oil until it’s soft and your entire kitchen smells like heaven. This starting step adds a beautiful depth of flavor to the tomato sauce, and the olive oil gives it an incredible richness.
Once you’ve done this, add in the pork and the ground beef and let it brown. Stir it with a wooden spoon. Note that pork is optional: you may not want pork in your lasagna, in which case you can just omit it entirely (replace with more ground beef).
Some people like to use sausage here. Sausage certainly works very well with this lasagna -- certainly Italian sausage makes for an incredible meat sauce -- but it does stray from the classic formula. We’re not making sausage lasagna here.
If at this point you have a lot of excess fat, just spoon some of it out. Add in the red wine and let it reduce by about half. Once it’s reduced, you can throw in the bay leaves, sieved or crushed tomato, tomato paste, and four cups of beef stock. Add in a pinch of salt and pepper.
At this point it’s just a matter of stirring everything together for a little bit, and then let it simmer on a low heat for 2 to 3 hours, uncovered. Halfway through, the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and all other ingredients should be more or less homogenized, and you can add in the rest of the beef stock. You’ll be left with a meat sauce to die for, and it goes fantastically with cheese.
6. How to make the bechamel sauce (white sauce)
A good bechamel sauce will be what really kicks this lasagna recipe to the next level -- from merely “tasty” to absolutely heavenly. Thankfully, making a good homemade bechamel sauce (also known as “white sauce”) is very straightforward.
The first thing we’re going to do is add the butter to a saucepan and get it melted and bubbling. Then add in the flour, stirring it to form a paste. Let it cook with the butter for about one minute.
Slowly, whisk in half of the milk into the butter and flour, keeping it moving to avoid any lumps. Once it’s started to thicken, add in the rest of the milk, as well as the nutmeg, the parmesan cheese, and a pinch of salt and pepper. The cheese will thicken it further.
You’ll find that as you continue to heat the sauce and stir it, it’ll thicken until it gets to the point where it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Once you’re at that point, take it off the heat and set it aside.
7. How to assemble the lasagna
Now we have all the elements -- we’ve made the lasagna noodles (or bought pre-made ones, no judgment!), we’ve made our meat sauce, and we’ve made our bechamel sauce. We have the puzzle pieces. Now we put it all together.
Spoon a little bit of the meat sauce at the bottom of the baking dish. Then cover it with an even layer of lasagna sheets (cut the lasagna noodles to fit your baking dish -- extremely useful to have a good knife, make sure it’s sharp, and use a good cutting board for this step).
Add in a few more spoons of your meat sauce so that it completely covers the pasta, then add in two ladles of white sauce. The layering process goes: pasta, ragu, bechamel sauce. Pasta, ragu, bechamel sauce. Repeat until everything is used up, but set aside enough bechamel sauce for the top layer.
Once you’ve filled up your pasta dish, finish off the bechamel on the top layer and then cover it with torn mozzarella cheese. The mozzarella will create a great outer later for your baked lasagna. Put it in an oven that’s been preheated to 350F and let it bake for a cooking time of 45 minutes. At that point, your lasagna should be bubbling and golden.
It will also be piping hot at this point, so let it cool a bit before serving -- usually 15 to 20 minutes, if you can resist temptation for that long.
Pro-tip: You can serve lasagna on the same day you make it, but it’s even better the next day! Letting it cool, storing it in the fridge and then putting it in the oven to serve the next day not only provides better structural integrity (it won’t fall apart as easily), but also more depth of flavor! But if you’re too eager, just do this with your leftover lasagna and you’ll see what we mean.
8. Frequently asked questions about lasagna
Should I put a layer of pasta at the bottom of my lasagna?
It’s best practice to add a little bit of the meat sauce at the very bottom of your baking dish to avoid any sticking or burning.
How many layers should lasagna have?
If you follow the easy lasagna recipe above, you’ll end up with 4 to 6 layers, also depending on the size of your baking dish.
What kind of cheese should I use in my lasagna?
Any kind you want! For the lasagna recipe above we used parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese; other recipes include ricotta, cheddar, or even cream cheese! It all depends on what you’re looking for. It’s good to honor the classics, but so much about cooking is about playing around and seeing what works.
This doesn’t just apply to cheese. Why not use a combination of meats? How about a chicken and sausage lasagna? How about a meat sauce that incorporates spicy Italian sausage? Try things out. If you’re willing to experiment a little, you may stumble upon your own fresh new take on this classic dish.
Written by Jorge Farah
Born on the coast of Colombia and based in Buenos Aires, Jorge is a cooking enthusiast and kitchenware obsessive with a tremendous amount of opinions.