Step-by-Step: Classic Italian Lasagna to Love Forever

So … this is an indulgent dish. It isn’t quick. It’s not exactly easy. And it’s certainly not low-fat. But, oh god, is it delicious! It’s a gift to your taste buds. A gift to the soul (especially with red wine). So go ahead, indulge! Dip your fork into layers of bolognese, béchamel, and ricotta love. Eat slowly with your favorite people (or person 🙂 ). Smile. Love. Be happy.

Recipe notes:

  • You need a 13×9 baking pan for this recipe that is NOT aluminum; I recommend Pyrex. Aluminum can react with the acidity of the bolognese sauce and ruin your dish.
  • Garam masala? Are you crazy? You may wonder. But oh yes, I use this spice mix as a very light seasoning that rests in the background of the bolognese sauce. In many traditional bolognese sauces cinnamon, cloves, and/or nutmeg may be used as a seasoning and I prefer to use a combination of spices found in ground garam masala. So there you have it, that my dear, is why I use a traditional Indian spice mix in Italian lasagna. 🙂
  • For the ricotta layer, you can use fresh or dried herbs, or a combination of both. I used both because I had fresh basil on hand, but not fresh parsley.
  • I use no-boil lasagna noodles; you can use any type you like. However, because I don’t like a crunchy top, I don’t add the top layer of noodles to my lasagna (see construction below). If you use boiled lasagna noodles you probably could because they would be soft already. That’s your call – I simply prefer no-boil noodles, but recognize that without moisture they will get crunchy, which is what happens if you put that top layer on. Instead, the layer of Parmesan on top creates a slightly crunchy, cheesy top layer.


Bolognese sauce

  • 1 thick slice of pancetta from the deli (about .10 lb), finely chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground Italian sausage
  • 1 tsp. garam masala spice mix
  • 1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp. salt

Béchamel Sauce

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • S/P

Ricotta mixture

  • 1 (15 oz.) container of ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Fresh parsley and basil, finely chopped OR dried Italian seasoning
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • S/P to season


  • 1 box Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles (16 sheets)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Bolognese Sauce

Prepare the soffritto: Combine the pancetta, onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in a dutch oven with the butter. Cook over medium heat until the onion is almost translucent.

Add the beef and sausage to the soffritto. Increase the heat to high and cook until browned. Season with 1 tsp. of garam masala.

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste; combine. Work to break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon or spatula as you stir.

Add the milk and salt. Turn heat to low and simmer for 2 hours. Stir at least every 20 minutes, scrapping the bottom of the pan. If you get to a point where the sauce is really sticking to the bottom, add 1/4 cup water, scrape the bottom, and continue to cook.

Béchamel Sauce

In a small sauce pan, heat the milk until almost boiling (it will start to bubble & foam – don’t let it boil!).

In a separate pan, melt the 4 tbsp. butter on medium heat and when melted, add the flour. Grab a whisk, and whisk the flour mixture constantly to combine, about 2 minutes. Remove the flour mixture from the heat.

Gradually add in half the hot milk to the flour mixture, whisking constantly. Return to low heat and add the remaining milk. Continue to whisk until it comes to a simmer. Season with  S/P. Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Ricotta mixture

Combine all ingredients and set aside.

Lasagna construction

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. To prepare no boil noodles, simply place the noodles in your baking dish and cover with boiling water. Let sit for about 5 minutes or until pliable. You can also soak in cold water, but it will take about 15 minutes. Using your hands, pick up each noodle and lay flat on a dish towel to drain. Don’t let them touch or stack upon each other as they dry. You will only use 12 noodles, unless you decide to have a crunchy top (see notes above).

Rinse and dry the baking dish and spread a splash of olive oil into the bottom of the pan. Put a layer of 4 noodles down in the pan, slightly overlapping. Layer on a third of the ricotta, then a third of the bolognese, and finally a third of the béchamel. (The béchamel layer will be the most difficult, do your best to spread using a spatula or back of a large spoon). Sprinkle with Parmesan. Top with 4 noodles. Repeat two more times.

Top with either a final layer of noodles (these will be pretty crunchy if you use no-boil) and Parmesan OR just sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Your baking dish will be filled to the brim, so I suggest placing your dish on a rimmed baking sheet for extra stability.

Loosely tent the lasagna with foil. Put the lasagna into the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake about 45 minutes until it becomes lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven and let sit 15 minutes before serving.

Serves: 8

Recipe source: Original

Time: About 4 hours

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3 thoughts on “Step-by-Step: Classic Italian Lasagna to Love Forever

    • thequickanddirtycook October 10, 2012 / 10:45 AM

      Thank you! Do try, it’s perfect for the cold weather coming around soon 🙂

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