Homemade Italian lasagna recipe: the best lasagna ever
Lasagna is one of the most famous Italian dishes ever: it’s juicy, full of flavor and rich. I use to say that a good homemade Italian lasagna truly represents Italy at its best.
There are thousands of recipes to make a homemade Italian lasagna because each of us Italians has a family recipe that jealously passes from hand to hand and from generation to generation.
Even if the taste is personal and what’s best is personal as well, there are a few rules to follow when it comes to Italian lasagna:
1. Make sure you use a good and fresh pasta
You can make the pasta sheets at home or buy them but my recommendation is always to use fresh pasta and not a dry one. The dry sheets require much more sauce to be good and they will never allow you to reach the consistency a good lasagna has: steaming, fragrant, and with delicious golden and crisp layers.
Remember: if you opt for dried lasagna sheets (like these from Barilla), you’ve to blanch and shock pasta. you’ve to blanch and shock pasta. This means you’ve to soak the lasagna sheets in a single layer in boiling water for 5 mins then drain them well on a cotton towel. Even if the packet specifies you don’t need to precook your dried lasagna sheets, it’s always better to blanch and shock the pasta so to make sure it’s similar to fresh pasta.
2. Make sure you make your own béchamel sauce
Béchamel sauce is not hard to make at home (click here for the recipe) and it guarantees a better result compared to the packed one. Also, if you make your own white sauce for your lasagna you can control the ingredients you use and avoid all the unhealthy ingredients you can eventually find in shop bought sauces. Make sure you perfectly evaluate the quantity of béchamel sauce you’re gonna use in your lasagna: if you use too much béchamel sauce your layers will be slippery and sloppy, but if you’re short on sauce your layers will be dried.
3. The filling has to be well made
The meat-based sauce cannot contain big chunks of meat. The meat has to very well minced but still present, it has to have a velvety texture so that when added to the layers together with the béchamel sauce it won’t disappear and, at the same time, it won’t cover the other ingredients.
4. Oil it up!
A good lasagna cannot stick to the baking pan and to avoid this, you need to grease your pan perfectly on the bottom and on the sides. You can use olive oil or, for a richer taste, butter. Remember to cover the bottom of the pan with some béchamel sauce as well. NEVER NEVER NEVER use parchment paper to cover the pan ’cause the sauce will wet everything and the paper will get mixed to the lasagna!
5. Layers and layers and layers
A homemade Italian lasagna is rich and this means we cannot be avaricious when it comes to layers. The ideal lasagna is made of 4-5 layers, all well seasoned and full of stuffing, possibly baked in a baking dish with high sides (even better if the baking pan is made of glass like this because it allows you to see the cooking and adjust accordingly).
6. Check the cooking time
A proper nonna-style homemade Italian lasagna nonna style is never dried. You need to evaluate your oven and consider that a lasagna bakes for 40-45 minutes at 180°C/356°F BUT remember to check the lasagna often while cooking, to prevent the heat from drying the pasta instead of just cooking it. Cover every part of the surface of the lasagna with some sauce, especially the corners. And to avoid the surface getting dry, just cover the baking dish with some foil paper.
Question: Which cheese should I use for my Italian lasagna?
This is a controversial question: half of the Italians only use béchamel, the other half use mozzarella cheese. And there someone that mix béchamel and mozzarella cheese. The traditional Italian recipe to make a perfect homemade lasagna suggests the use of béchamel sauce. The mozzarella lasagna is another recipe.
Final advice to enjoy your homemade Italian lasagna like a pro
Before giving you the recipe for a perfect homemade Italian lasagna with meat sauce, let me tell you something else: the lasagna is way better the day after. Make sure you make way more lasagna than the amount you’re gonna eat, bake it and store it in the fridge: you can heat up your lasagna in the oven for the next two days and it will be even better than the first day. You can also prepare it in advance and freeze it without cooking it: just put it in the oven and cook it, without defrosting it, when needed.
Ingredients for 6 people
- 150 grams of fresh lasagne sheets (small or big. If they’re bigger than the baking dish, cut them so that they will fit)
- Cold butter to grease
- 60 grams Parmesan cheese
For the meat sauce
- 700 ml of tomato puree (passata, like this)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 celery stick, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
- 500 grams minced beef or lamb
- 2 glasses Italian dry red wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato purée (like this)
For the béchamel sauce
- 100 grams of unsalted butter
- 100 grams of flour
- 1 liter ml of milk
- ¼ freshly grated nutmeg
- Prepare the meat sauce by heating the olive oil in a large pan and deep fry the onion, carrot, and celery for about 5 minutes, stirringly occasionally.
- Add the minced meat and keep cooking for 5 minutes, stirringly constantly. Add salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes more.
- Pour in the wine and let the alcohol to evaporate by cooking for 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce (passata), the tomato purée and let the sauce cook for 1 hour, stirringly occasionally, on a lower heat. make sure you taste the sauce so that it won’t be flavourless.
- Prepare the béchamel sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirringly constantly, until it becomes light brown in color. Gradually whisk in the milk, lower the heat and let it cook for 10 minutes, whisking constantly. Once thickened, stir in the nutmeg, add salt and pepper and set the sauce aside to slightly cool covering the top with some cling film.
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/356°F.
- Grease the bottom of the baking dish and spread a quarter of the béchamel sauce followed by 1 big lasagna sheet or 4 smallest lasagna sheets.
- Spread half the meat sauce over the pasta, add more béchamel sauce and a handful of Parmesan cheese.
- Lay 1 or 4 more sheets of lasagne on top and cover with the half of the remaining meat sauce. Spread half of the remaining béchamel sauce on top and a handful of Parmesan cheese.
- Arrange a final layer of lasagne sheets over the sauces, then gently spread the rest of the meat sauce and béchamel on top, making sure that the pasta is completely covered.
- Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
- Cook at 180°C/356°F for 35 minutes; for the last 5 minutes, make sure you activate the grill function of your oven and cook the lasagna until golden and crispy all over. Set the dish aside for 10 minutes before serving.
Preparation time: 2 hours
[Pics by Giuseppe Milo]