My mom taught me how to make lasagna way back in the day. Recently I went to look for a handwritten recipe card I have had for decades but it was nowhere to be found. So here is my recipe from memory. This is a very basic recipe, designed to keep preparation as simple as possible. Once you master the technique you can make all kinds of great variations.
Uncooked lasagna noodles are a game changer
The good news is some genius figured out you don't have to cook the lasagna noodles. Not only does it eliminate a step and an extra pot, but it greatly simplifies making lasagna. No more worrying about noodles sticking together and tearing.
The sauce can be made a day or two ahead so all you have to do is assemble the lasagna and bake. You can even freeze the sauce and defrost it the day you want to assemble your lasagna.
I like to use a large heavy bottomed pan to make the sauce. I use a Le Creuset dutch oven, which provides good uniform heat. I know they are incredibly expensive, but you will get a lifetime of great meals out of it, and be able to pass it down to your kids. Interestingly, in France, Le Creusets are said to be the inheritance items siblings squabble over most.
By the way, the sauce stands on its own. You can toss it with some spaghetti noodles, dust it with a little parmesan and you are good to go.
No-cook noodles vs regular lasagna noodles
The interesting thing is you don't need special no-cook lasagna noodles to make lasagna without cooking the noodles. You can use regular lasagna noodles. I did a test comparison of Ronzoni no-cook lasagna noodles vs. De Cecco regular lasagna noodles and the regular noodles came out better than the no-cook, even though I did not cook them. The De Cecco were plumper and had better shape and texture.
One trick I use to insure the noodles cook evenly in the sauce is after the lasagna is layered, I use a spatula to gently press down on the top of the lasagna. The goal is to make sure all of the noodles are in good contact with the sauce.
A second trick is to cover the lasagna in foil for the first 30 minutes in the oven. This creates some steam in the pan and helps cook the noodles.
My third trick is if the sauce has become thick, I dilute with a little water to make sure it is thin enough to coat the noodles.
Tips for sneaking in more vegetables
If you have veggie-resistant eaters the nice thing about lasagna is there are lots of ways to sneak in more vegetables. You can:
- Add some chopped carrot and celery to the onion and garlic mixture at the beginning of the recipe. These added veggies will never be noticed by picky eaters.
- Add zucchini slices, artichoke hearts, mushrooms or roasted red peppers to the sauce.
- Add a layer of sauteed spinach.
Many lasagna recipes have you mix eggs and spices into the ricotta, and sometimes mix all three of the cheeses together. My goal was to keep this recipe simple. So rather than mixing the cheeses, I dot the ricotta straight out of the carton onto the meat sauce, add slices of mozzarella and sprinkle grated parmesan over each layer of meat sauce.
You can also vary the cheese you use for an untraditional lasagna. Mascarpone or cottage cheese can be used to replace the ricotta. Goat cheese, blue cheese, gruyere, swiss, cheddar or muenster cheese can be used instead of mozzarella. Romano or asiago cheese can be used instead of the parmesan.
Lasagna noodles should be placed in the pan so they overlap slightly, about a 1/4."
Sizes and freezing
If you are serving a large group of people bake this lasagna in one large 13 x 9 x 2 pan. If I have a larger crowd I will increase the recipe by 50% and build a 3 layer lasagna in a 13 x 12" pan.
If you don't have a lot of eaters, you can divide the lasagna into two smaller pans and freeze one for later. No need to bake, just cover the baking dish in plastic wrap, wrapping all the way around the dish, not just the top, so you get a good seal and avoid freezer burn. Lasagna is good in the freezer for several months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and then bake per instructions.
You can also freeze individual portions after the lasagna is baked. Just cut the leftovers into square servings, carefully wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.
A labor of love
There is no getting around it, making homemade lasagna takes some time and is a labor of love. My advice is to make a couple pans of lasagna, because making two pans takes virtually the same amount of time as making two. And lasagna freezes so well.
Also remember there is less than an hour of active time when you make lasagna. The sauce cooks on its own for an hour (with a stir or two) and the lasagna bakes on its own for 45 minutes.
Yield 10 -12 servings
This simplified lasagna is easy to make and can be made in advance, frozen and baked when needed. Add some mushrooms, zucchini or artichoke hearts to the sauce to increase the veggies in this dish.
- 1 T plus olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 3/4 pound mushrooms or zucchini, sliced (optional)
- 1 pound hamburger
- 1 pound sweet or hot italian sausage, casing removed
- 2 28-ounce cans chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 cup red wine or water
- 1 bay leaves
- 1 t dried basil
- 1 t dried oregano
- 2 T chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 t red pepper flakes (adjust to your heat preference)
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the lasagna
- 1/2 pound regular lasagna noodles
- 1 pound ricotta
- 1 pound mozzarella, sliced
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Saute garlic and onions in a heavy-bottomed pan for 5 minutes. If using mushrooms, add them now and continue sauteing for another 5 minutes, until all the vegetables are cooked.
- Add hamburger and sausage. Stir to break up meat into little bits. Continue cooking until the meat is cooked, about 10 minutes.
- If adding zucchini, add them now and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, red wine, bay leaf, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Put a ladleful of sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2" pan and spread the tomato sauce so the entire bottom of the pan is lightly covered. Put a layer of noodles on top of the meat sauce.
- Spread half the remaining sauce on top of the noodles. Using a teaspoon, scoop up spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and dot over the meat sauce. You will use half the ricotta for this first layer. Then arrange half of the mozzarella slices on top of the ricotta. Now sprinkle half of the parmesan cheese over the mozzarella. Repeat with a second layer of noodles, sauce and cheese.
- Use a spatula to gently press down on the surface of the lasagna. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking another 10 to 15 minutes until the top layer of cheese is bubbly and beginning to color. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.
THIS SERVES WELL WITH