It didn’t take a pandemic to turn us into pasta lovers — we’ve almost always had Pasta Mondays in our house. But I have played with new ingredients while we’ve been living the quarantine life, and as part of my commitment to provide you with easy-to-make recipes while we’re in this new normal, I wanted to share the best lasagna recipe I’ve ever made and instructions for how to layer a lasagna.
This lasagna recipe has a few twists on a classic bolognese lasagna, and can easily be made without the bechamel sauce (but trust me when I tell you that it’ll amp up your lasagna like nobody’s business). So if you’re pressed for time or simply don’t want the extra dairy/calories, skip the white sauce.
The best lasagna recipe ever – part I
We aren’t vegetarians and I confess that I’ve never even tried a vegetarian lasagna, so the only recipe you’re going to find here is for a beef bolognese. This is the same bolognese sauce I make for all of our pasta dishes, so know that you can use this in place of your store-bought jar of spaghetti sauce, too.
Have you checked out my huge roundup of easy family meals yet? Make sure you keep that one bookmarked — I update it nearly every week with new recipes.
Make an easy beef bolognese
The absolute best bolognese sauce recipe is made with the things you love the most. So if you hate bell peppers, ditch ’em. If you love garlic more than your favourite aunt, add more than I’ve listed here. You really can’t go wrong, but you do need to give this a bit of time on the stove-top to simmer and let all of the flavours blend together.
Sometimes I’ll even make this a day ahead and let it all marinade together in the fridge overnight after cooking it. And sometimes I’ll make a double or triple batch and freeze the other portions (it freezes really well!).
- A package of minced meat, like beef or turkey (at least 3/4 of a pound and a pound if you like it really meaty)
- Two tbsp of a good cooking oil, like avocado or coconut
- Two big garlic cloves, minced
- One onion, diced
- One bell pepper (any colour!), diced
- One 796mL (28 fl.oz.) can of crushed or diced tomatoes
- One 156mL (about 5 fl.oz.) can of tomato paste
- A selection of spices that you like — oregano, basil, cumin, turmeric, etc. (watch my Tik Tok to see exactly which ones I use)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Add cooking oil to a Dutch oven or large sauce pan.
- Sautée onion and garlic together until they’re just starting to carmelize.
- Toss in the bell pepper and sautée with the onion and garlic for a minute or two.
- Now dump in your minced meat, can of tomatoes, can of tomato paste. Don’t put your spices in yet!
- Mix everything up and make sure there are no large lumps of meat.
- Cover and simmer for at least an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
- Provided the meat looks cooked through, add your spices, salt and pepper. Add the salt little by little and keep stirring and tasting — remember, your canned tomatoes probably already have salt in them, so you don’t want to overdo it. This is why the meat needs to be cooked before you add the spices.
- Cover again, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and set a timer/reminder for every hour to give it a good stir. We usually leave it simmering like this for up to four hours but you could easily get away with one hour.
The best lasagna recipe ever – part II
Once the meat sauce is done and you’re getting closer to putting your lasagna together (see the “how to layer a lasagna” section below), fire up some butter in a pan and sautée some diced mushrooms. I have one kid who doesn’t particularly love mushrooms and she doesn’t even know they’re in there. Cook as many of these as you like and set them aside.
Grab some spinach leaves, wash and remove stems if necessary, and keep about two big handfuls nearby. You can also sautée these with the mushrooms, but you’ll probably want more like four big handfuls since it cooks down so much. This lasagna is the only way I ever get spinach into my kids’ mouths.
The best lasagna recipe ever – part III
Just minutes before you’re going to layer the lasagna (see the “how to layer a lasagna” section below), make this basic bechamel sauce.
I’ll admit that before being on lockdown, I would have never attempted a bechamel lasagna. It would have felt intimidating or time-consuming — both things that would’ve made me run away. Fast. But I swear: if I can do this, you can do this.
The key is to have all of your ingredients out and measured, ready to go. You also need to have a good 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to do this, so make sure your kids are occupied and grab your smartphone (you can watch something while passively doing the required whisking). You may want to ask a partner or older child to help at the end.
Make an easy white sauce for pasta
This easy bechamel sauce will blow your mind and balance the acidity of the tomatoes in your bolognese sauce. While you don’t need it for this lasagna to be super-yum, I submit that my family wholly agreed that the addition of this cheesy white sauce is a must moving forward. And my kids can be pretty hard to please.
- Two cups of milk
- Two tbsp. of unsalted butter
- Two tbsp. of flour
- A dash of nutmeg or all spice
- Half a cup of grated parmesan cheese
- Heat the milk over medium heat in a heavy saucepan; scald it, but try not to let it boil into a frothy mess. Then keep it warm on VERY low heat.
- Melt butter in a separate small saucepan on low heat — this should be large enough to accommodate the milk and cheese later, but not much bigger. When it’s bubbling, add the flour bit by bit, whisking constantly until it forms a creamy paste. This will come together quickly, maybe two minutes max. Keep whisking on the lowest heat possible.
- Keep whisking and add the hot milk in a steady stream. Pause your pour to focus on whisking if it starts breaking up into bits. Then add a bit more milk and repeat until all of the milk is used.
- This is important: bring the milk to a gentle simmer and continue to whisk without stopping until the sauce gets thicker. This takes about 9-11 minutes, and at first you’ll wonder if it’ll ever get thick. It will. Keep whisking.
- Now whisk in the spice of your choice and the parmesan. You’re going to need to use this immediately and this is the perfect time to get some help since you need to keep whisking it over very low heat until you’re ready to layer it into your lasagna.
How to layer a lasagna & cook it to perfection
This part is actually quite easy, but there are often questions about how to layer a lasagna the right way. I’m not sure there’s a wrong way, to be honest, but I’ll walk you through my way below.
- A 10×10 or 9×12 baking or roasting pan (squares and rectangles work better with the noodles but a roasting pan will make the edges even crispier — your call). Note that a big roasting pan may require double the ingredients
- No-cook lasagna noodles (oh, sure, you can be a fancy pants and cook them yourself or use expensive fresh pasta, BUT WHY?!)
- Beef bolognese sauce (see Part I)
- Mushrooms and spinach (see Part II)
- Easy bechamel sauce (see Part III)
- Grated mozzerella cheese — as much or as little as you want
- An oven pre-heated to 375°F (I like to do it on convection bake or convection roast but it’s absolutely fine if you don’t have a convection oven)
How to layer a lasagna, step-by-step:
1. This step is crucial so nothing sticks to the bottom of your pan, so don’t mess with this part, k? Put a very thin layer of your meat sauce on the bottom of the pan from edge to edge.
2. Place one layer of lasagna noodles in your pan on top of the meat sauce, side by side, as close together as you can get them. You may need to break up a noodle here and there to fill in any gaps.
3. Place a thicker layer of meat sauce on top of the noddles. You can use half of your total mixture.
4. Now dump your sautéed mushrooms evenly on top.
5. Add a layer of spinach (if you sautéed your leaves with mushrooms, just consider this step moot).
6. Place another layer of lasagna noodles on top, side by side and again filling in any gaps.
7. Remember that person who’s been whisking your bechamel sauce ever-so-diligently? Let them know they’re done, and gently pour the sauce all over the noodles — run it up and down and side to side until all of it’s poured out. With a spatula, gently spread the white sauce from edge to edge so you don’t see noodles anymore.
8. Add the other half of your bolognese mixture on top of the bechamel layer. I suggest you do this in small globs so you can spread it evenly with a clean spatula — slowly, glob-by-glob. Otherwise, you’re going to have a marbled meat sauce in this layer…which I’m sure is also fine, so who cares if you mess up?
9. Finally, top with shredded mozzerella cheese. How much is up to you. I like a lot near the edges so they get super crispy.
10. Bake at 375°F loosely covered in tin foil (or your roasting pan’s lid) for 30-40 minutes. The cheese should be completely melted but not yet browning. Then remove the foil/lid, bump up your oven to a low broil or 400-425°F and continue baking uncovered for a few more minutes to get your cheese bubbling to a nice, golden-brown colour. This may take anywhere from 2-5 minutes depending on your oven — watch it closely so the cheese doesn’t burn.
That’s it! Enjoy your beef lasagna fresh out of the oven or divide it into portions and keep it in air-tight glass containers in your fridge for several days. I find pasta dishes get even better after a day or two.
DISCLAIMER: there isn’t one.