Homemade Lasagna is the definition of comfort food, with layers of tender pasta, cheese and homemade pasta sauce all baked together to make one big cheesy dish!
I pulled out this lasagna recipe from an old stack of recipes at D.J.’s Dad’s house, when we still lived in North Carolina. Our original spaghetti sauce (or Sunday Gravy) was typed on this mid 1990’s rainbow bordered paper, and the instructions for making lasagna handwritten on the back. Homemade Lasagna was a huge treat for D.J. growing up since his Mom hated making it. Although it is a labor of love to make, Homemade Lasagna is so comforting. Although it takes a little while to make, it’s super easy and it’s totally worth the extra few minutes it takes to assemble.
Lasagna is such a great meal all around. Not only does it feed a small army, it is absolutely delicious, it’s a great make-ahead meal since it reheats and freezes extremely well. I usually make a couple lasagnas at a time, and freeze one for later in the month. I honestly think it’s better the second day. If Lasagna is on the menu for Sunday, I usually bake the lasagna on Saturday night, and once it cools, just cover it with foil and put it in the freezer. Come Sunday night, I preheat the oven to 350, and the lasagna takes only about 30-35 minutes to heat up. When you reheat it, the lasagna holds its shape a lot better, allowing you to see the layers you worked so hard putting together, and the cheese and sauce doesn’t slide off of the noodles back into the casserole dish.
Three-Cheese Spinach Lasagna
You’re not limited to only the ingredients in this recipe – skip the spinach, switch up the cheeses or add meat. If you want to add some meat to the lasagna, cook half a pound each of ground beef and sweet or hot Italian sausage in a large skillet and season with 3 tsp of Italian seasoning (a combination of salt, pepper, parsley, basil and garlic). Drain the extra fat, and stir meat into sauce.
It all starts with a great sauce. The recipe for sauce is a simple, authentic tomato sauce recipe passed down to me from D.J.’s Italian Grandmother. When I make lasagna, I never make it with the sauce I made that day, it’s always a few days later, or with the frozen, leftover sauce that I have. I do this for a few reasons, but most importantly, it’s because as the sauce sits and cools, it thickens up, which you need for making lasagna. If the sauce is too hot or too thin, it can make the lasagna mushy.
Fresh mozzarella, finely grated parmesan cheese (or romano), and whole milk ricotta. These three cheeses mixed together are the base of almost all Italian baked pasta dishes. Fresh mozzarella works best in Lasagna as it melts and combines into the other cheeses best. If fresh mozzarella isn’t in your budget, opt for a block and shred it yourself. The pre-shredded cheese is coated in cornstarch or potato starch to stop the shreds from clumping together in the bag. Although convenient, it does not melt well, and can leave a gritty texture in the lasagna.
Lasagna is not the recipe to be cutting corners and trying to lighten up – it is what it is. The whole milk ricotta is key to the cheese mixture. The whole milk ricotta is thicker than the low-fat variety, and holds up better in the lasagna. Low-fat ricotta can be watery, which can make the cheese filling for your lasagna watery, and that can just cause a big mushy mess that no one will eat.
Since you’re going to be baking the pasta after boiling it, you want to undercook the lasagna noodles. I used Barilla lasagna noodles when I made it, and for me this was 8 minutes. Cook the pasta until just before al-dente. One box of lasagna noodles makes a perfect three layer 9×13 lasagna without having to break the noodles.
How To Layer & Cook Lasagna
Layering Lasagna is the part that seems to overwhelm most people. As long as you prepare your ingredients right, assembly is a breeze. Before assembling, prepare your ingredients. Sauce should be cold or at room temperature. Lasagna takes about an hour to bake at 350 degrees, depending on how many layers you have.
- Boil lasagna noodles in salted boiling water for 8 minutes, or just before al-dente.
- Drain, and place noodles flat on a baking sheet lined and layered with parchment or wax paper.
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for cheese filling.
- Spread about a cup of sauce into a 9×13 pan. Add a layer of noodles.
- Top the noodles with some of the cheese and spinach mixture, gently pressing into a smooth even layer.
- Top cheese layer evenly with about a cup of sauce.
- Repeat the layers, ending with a layer of noodles.
- Spread about a cup of sauce over the top of the noodles, and top with shredded cheeses.
- Cover with foil and bake.
- After 45 minutes, remove foil and finish baking.
- Remove from oven and let rest 20 minutes before serving. This is an extremely important part. Be patient, and let it rest. If you cut into the lasagna too early, the filling will just slide out all over the place.
- Serve with Caesar salad and crusty Italian bread.
DO NOT OVERBAKE! Once you see some crispy cheesy edges, you lasagna is cooked. As the lasagna rests, it will firm up, and continue cooking. If you over bake the lasagna, the noodles will dry up and get crispy, and the cheese gets gritty. Even if the lasagna looks a little soft and cheesy in the middle, as long as the lasagna is heated through, it’ll be perfect after that rest time.
How To Freeze & Reheat Lasagna
Lasagna is the perfect Freezer Meal. Assemble lasagna, and top with cheeses. Cover tightly in plastic wrap, and then in foil. Label and freeze. To reheat, thaw completely over night in the fridge. To cook from frozen, add an additional 20-25 minutes of covered cook time.