Lasagna was one of the first dishes I learned to make in college. The early attempts were based on an easy lasagna recipe that kept dishes to a minimum but still provided plenty of leftovers. When I would cook it, the irresistible aroma of melting cheese and robust pasta sauce would waft down the hall. It earned me a reputation as the cook on my floor. Before long, I started doubling the lasagna ingredients to make it in a huge disposable pan—perfect for feeding a crowd or for holiday occasions.
After years of experimentation, I finally landed on the best lasagna recipe. Making the sauce from scratch takes a few more steps than a lazy lasagna made with store-bought sauce and precooked meat. But it’s always worth the effort. The leftovers freeze exceptionally well, too, so don’t be afraid to make an extra pan for later.
The best part about this lasagna is that many of the steps can be done in advance. Cook the meat sauce a few days ahead, or prepare the entire lasagna ahead of time. It’s one of our favorite make-ahead freezer meals.
- Lasagna noodles: Preboiled lasagna noodles have a lovely texture, but no-boil or oven-ready noodles also work in this recipe. They will absorb extra moisture, so the dish may not turn out quite as saucy.
- Sausage and ground beef: This combination creates the iconic flavor that defines traditional lasagna. But you could go with all beef or all sausage, or ground chicken or ground turkey. (Vegetable lasagna is also delightful as a meatless variation.)
- Crushed tomatoes and tomato paste: Tomatoes combine with onions, garlic and meat for a stellar tomato sauce. If you’re running short on time, store-bought pasta sauce also works.
- Sugar: This secret ingredient transforms an ordinary tomato sauce into one that tastes like it has simmered all day. The sweetness balances the tomato’s acidity, making the sauce more well-rounded.
- Cheese: Mozzarella, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses come together to give this lasagna its extra-decadent flavor. For a makeover lasagna, you can reduce the cheese by skipping the mozzarella inside the layers and just sprinkling it on top.
- Egg: The egg acts as a binder, turning the ricotta into a cohesive mixture that sets as the lasagna cooks. This prevents it from turning out watery.
How to Make Lasagna
- Boil the pasta: Skip this step if you’re using fresh pasta, no-boil noodles or oven-ready noodles.
- Prepare the lasagna ingredients: Cook the meat, make a sauce and prepare any cheesy fillings.
- Make the layers: Fill the casserole dish with layers of sauce, noodles and cheese. Starting with sauce on the bottom keeps the noodles from sticking.
- Rest before slicing: Resting is often overlooked, but it’s the secret to preventing a soupy mess on the plate.
How to Layer Lasagna
To layer the lasagna ingredients, alternate adding sauce, noodles and cheese to the casserole dish. Then repeat! Always start with sauce on the bottom of the baking dish to keep the noodles from sticking, and finish the top layers with cheese for visual appeal. Most 13×9-inch baking dishes will fit about three layers. Once layered, the lasagna can be baked immediately or saved for later.
(Looking for a layerless lasagna? Try Giada de Laurentiis’s crispy sheet pan lasagna recipe.)
How Long to Bake Lasagna
We cook this lasagna at 375°F for 50 minutes (25 minutes covered and 25 minutes uncovered). The uncovered portion is key to ensuring the cheese topping browns to golden perfection. Cooking time may vary if you use no-boil or oven-ready noodles.
Step 1: Brown the beef
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. When complete, drain the noodles, and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bulk Italian sausage, ground beef and diced onion. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up the meat with a large spoon as it cooks to create gorgeous crumbles. Add the garlic, and cook for one minute, until the mixture is fragrant.
Editor’s Tip: To ensure the noodles will not stick to each other, stir the water like a whirlpool when you add the pasta sheets.
Step 2: Make the meat sauce
Drain the mixture in the Dutch oven. Then, add the remaining sauce ingredients: crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water, sugar, 3 tablespoons parsley, basil, fennel, 1/2 teaspoon salt and coarsely ground pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 3: Prepare the cheese filling
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, ricotta cheese, and remaining 1/4 cup parsley and 1/4 teaspoon salt. If you haven’t already, grate the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
Editor’s Tip: For the freshest, creamiest taste, grate your own cheese at home.
Step 4: Layer the lasagna ingredients
Preheat the oven to 375°. Spoon 2 cups meat sauce into an ungreased 13×9-inch baking dish, spreading it out to cover the entire dish. Layer three noodles onto the sauce. Add one-third of the ricotta mixture, spreading it over the noodles with a rubber spatula or an icing spatula. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese and 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.
Repeat the layers twice, finishing with remaining meat sauce and cheeses. The dish will be very full by the time you get to the top!
Step 5: Bake the lasagna
Cover the baking dish, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the cover, and cook for an additional 25 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is fully melted. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Lasagna Recipe Variations
- Skip the meat: Lasagna tastes fantastic with just cheese and sauce. You can also toss your favorite veggies into the mix. We love using meaty vegetables like mushrooms or eggplant. And you can never go wrong with a classic like spinach lasagna. Since most vegetables have a high water content, we recommend cooking them before adding them to your lasagna layers.
- Use different cheeses: You can use cottage cheese instead of ricotta, or replace some mozzarella with other melting cheeses like provolone, fontina or cheddar. For a vegan lasagna, make plant-based ricotta with tofu.
- Vary the sauce and seasonings: You don’t need red sauce or Italian herbs to make a great lasagna. Play around with the flavor profile, and turn this casserole into Mexican lasagna, chicken Alfredo lasagna or even a breakfast lasagna. Let your imagination soar!
- Make it low carb: Use thinly sliced vegetables in place of the noodles, as we do in this zucchini lasagna. Sliced deli meats also work for layering when making keto lasagna.
- Use a different cooking method: Slow-cooker lasagna is our go-to for making a hands-off weeknight dinner. Or use your favorite cast-iron skillet on the stovetop to make a skillet lasagna. Don’t want to layer? Turn the dish into lasagna soup or lasagna rolls.
Can you make lasagna ahead of time?
Yes, you can make lasagna ahead of time. Simply assemble the lasagna, and wrap it in plastic wrap. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days. When you’re ready to eat, take the dish out of the fridge while the oven preheats. Then bake it according to the directions.
If you prefer, you can bake the lasagna ahead of time, and store it whole. Bake the lasagna according to the directions, and let it cool. Then cover the dish with aluminum foil. Store it in the refrigerator, where it will last for up to five days. Take it out of the fridge while the oven preheats to 350°. Reheat the lasagna until it’s warmed through, about 30 minutes.
How to Store Lasagna
Leftover lasagna is good in the fridge for five days. Store individual slices in an airtight container, and reheat them in the microwave. Or follow the instructions above for storing the lasagna whole.
How to Freeze Lasagna
You can freeze lasagna as individual portions or as a whole casserole. Wrap individual slices in foil, and store them in a resealable bag in the freezer for up to three months. To reheat, thaw the sliced lasagna in the refrigerator overnight. Place the slices on an oven-safe dish, and bake in a 350° oven for 3o minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the center reads 165°.
To freeze the whole lasagna, let the baked lasagna cool completely. Wrap the entire lasagna (pan included) in plastic wrap. Then cover the top of the lasagna with a piece of foil. When you’re ready to use the frozen lasagna, transfer the pan to the refrigerator to thaw overnight. Once thawed, follow the instructions above for reheating whole lasagna.
Learn more with our complete guide on how to freeze lasagna.
Lasagna Recipe Tips
What side dishes go with lasagna?
Is lasagna better with ricotta or cottage cheese?
You can use ricotta or cottage cheese when making lasagna. It’s a matter of personal preference! Some prefer the richness and creaminess of ricotta cheese. Others like the low-fat, high-protein cottage cheese option. Cottage cheese has a higher water content, so you may want to drain it for an hour or so before using it.
Why is my lasagna watery?
The best way to avoid watery lasagna is to properly drain the noodles before layering. Once cooked and drained, do not rinse the noodles with water. Instead, lay them in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Not rinsing in water will allow the sauce to cling to the starches on the noodles. Another way to prevent watery lasagna is to allow water to evaporate during the cooking process. Cook the sauce uncovered for at least 30 minutes, and remove the lasagna’s cover during the final 25 minutes of baking.