So here’s the shtick on the role lasagna has played in my life….
- My mom made lasagna a lot when we were kids – and it was made with dry noodles, lots of homemade meat sauce, a mixture of ricotta, eggs, parmigiano reggiano, a heavy dose of fresh parsley and always baked with a crispy top crust (sometimes, she would even add crumbled hard boiled eggs, which is pretty traditional in some parts of Italy).
- When I was a kid, lasagna was almost always on the table at big family gatherings…those were good times!
- Also, when I was a kid, I distinctly remember being invited to someone’s house where we were served lasagna (because she “very adamantly” claimed to make the world’s best lasagna). She made it with store bought sauce (which she told us she added sugar to because it tasted better that way), cottage cheese, Parmesan from a can, boiled hot dogs and served it with a side of ketchup…that was not a good day.
- My mother-in-law, who hails from Manchester, England (but lived with my father-in-law’s Northern Italian family) makes the best lasagna On. The. Planet. Hands down. I bow down to her. Seriously.
Depending on what part of Italy you look at, every region has a different version of lasagna. You will most likely find bechamel in the north (like my version here, my mother-in-law’s version has this as a top layer and the creaminess was a game changer for me!). In the south, you’ll probably notice lasagna is very “tomato” heavy and may even have fish. Also, traditionally, the dough prepared in Southern Italy is made with semolina and water while in the northern regions, where semolina was not available, is traditionally made with with flour and eggs.
The actual dish originated in the region of Emilia-Romagna.
Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed anyone saying (or spelling) “lasagne” instead of “lasagna”. If you are North American, you may not have and I’ll tell you why. English speaking North Americans use lasagna. Those who speak English from outside North America usually use lasagne. In Italian, lasagna is the singular noun and lasagne is the plural, but in English, if you make more than one lasagna, you have made lasagnas.
Let me add to the craziness…
Here are fun facts you may not know:
- The word “lasagna” referred to the pot in which food was cooked. Some say it is derived from the Greek word for “chamber pot”.
- The earliest lasagna recipes known are dated from the thirteenth century. At that time, tomatoes weren’t known to Europeans. This means that they couldn’t have used them in this recipe.
- You can make lasagna in the dish washer. All you have to do is put the ingredients together in a dish, cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil, then use the heated dry and sanitize cycle on your dishwasher to cook the lasagna….but please, never do this. It’s just so wrong in so many ways.
- July 29th is National Lasagna Day…in case you wanted to put that in your calendar!
So, here’s the deal with my lasagna…
I always use fresh pasta sheets from the grocer (for special occasions, I’ll make my own from this recipe on the blog) but I find using these sheets is great in a pinch! You can use dry noodles but when using no-boil noodles, be very sure you have a watery sauce to ensure your noodles cook well in the oven.
You can use good quality store bought sauce and add your own browned ground beef (I would not recommend buying store bought meat sauce unless you’re buying it from a Nonna who is making it fresh for you!). I have a fool-proof tomato sauce recipe on the blog that you can try as well!
Next up is the bechamel sauce. You make a roux with butter and flour and then add milk to the paste and whisk until it thickens…season with salt and pepper and it’s all done!
Now comes the layering part…sauce on the bottom of the pan, then cooked pasta sheets, then more sauce…
…then some grated mozzarella (for a totally over-the-top lasagna, use fresh mozzarella…but for ease, I always have a block of vacuum-sealed mozzarella in the fridge for convenience).
Keep layering until you get to the last top layer…spoon over the bechamel and top with a bit more cheese.
Bake in a hot oven – or until your house smells gloriously wonderful!
Bring on all the delicious, bubbling goodness of homemade lasagna! Just remember, you can always wrap it up tightly just before adding the bechamel and freeze it…then you’ll have a magical dish to cook another night!
Use this basic formula and add what you like. Add roasted mushrooms and grilled eggplant instead of ground beef for a meaty dish. And if we’re talking meatless lasagnas, take the meat sauce out all together and replace it with loads of roasted butternut squash…just make sure to add lots of sage! And how about adding some grilled shrimp to the mix or some crumbled hard boiled egg like my mama used to do.
Just no hot dogs.
I mean it.
Authentic Italian Lasagna
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 450 grams ground beef (can be a combination of beef, pork and veal)
- 3-4 cups tomato sauce homemade or store bought)
- 10-12 large fresh lasagna sheets
- 3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 cups milk
- 2 tbsp parmigiano reggiano grated
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 375°F
In a large pot over medium high heat, heat olive oil and add ground meat. Cook until no longer pink, breaking up pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Add tomato sauce and mix to combine; set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, prepare an 9 x 13-inch baking pan with a scoop (about 1/2 -3/4 cup) of tomato sauce along the bottom; set aside
Place one sheet of pasta into the boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes; remove from pot (making sure to drain all the water) and place on top of the sauce coated baking dish (depending on your pasta sheets, you may have to cut some to fit the bottom of your pan - although it doesn't really have to fit perfectly). Top with a handful of grated cheese and continue layering pasta/sauce/cheese until you have the top (last) pasta sheet placed on as the final layer.
To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and continue whisking until it turns into a paste/roux, about 2 min (do not let it brown). Gradually add milk and continue to whisk and continue cooking until sauce thickens, 4 to 5 more min. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour bechamel over the final (last) pasta sheet that has been placed on the top of the lasagna (so the last sheet of pasta will not have anything on it except bechamel) and sprinkle with the last bit of mozzarella, if you have some left and the parmigiano. Bake for about 40 minutes or until warm all the way through.
If you prefer a crispy top, place the lasagna under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top!