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How To Make The Perfect Lasagna

How To Make The Perfect Lasagna

It’s no secret that lasagna can cure just about anything that ails you.

Right along with pizza and the classic spaghetti and meatballs, this cheesy loaded pasta dish is in the running for star-status-style comfort food—even more so in the winter months when it's layers of ooey-gooey goodness are almost better than your favorite sweater. If your Nonna didn’t grace your Sunday table with a big ol’ casserole dish of baked pasta, it’s your turn to start the tradition. We collaborated with Elena Davis of @cucinabyelana to create this detailed guide on how to make lasagna step by step.

But first, where does the name “Lasagna” come from?

Before we dive into the process of making lasagna, here is a little Italian tidbit for you. In Italy, lasagna (plural “lasagne”) refers to the flat and expanded pasta sheet. The finished product is typically referred to as, “pasta al forno”, or baked pasta. Traditionally, it is made with Parmigiano-Reggiano Béchamel (white sauce), and ragù (a meat-based tomato sauce). The dish is made by stacking lasagna sheets on top of each other with meats, vegetables, cheeses, and tomato sauce between. Layers and layers of flavor perfection!

lasagna in baking dish with missing piece

Lasagna Noodles

How Do I Cook Lasagna Noodles?

Think of the lasagna noodles as the mortar when laying bricks. It’s important to create a strong foundation to stack the rest of the ingredients. You don’t want the noodles too soft, or it will be a sloppy mess, nor too firm or you can’t cut that perfect square slice. There is a “sweet spot” in cooking the noodles. Here are some key pointers:

product shot of delallo lasagna noodles in and out of package

• Start with quality pasta! You want a sturdy pasta made from Italian hard wheat to get a nice texture instead of a lower quality pasta that will essentially disappear in the sea of lucious meat, bechamel, and cheese layers.

lasagna noodles boiling in pot of water on stove top

• Bring your salted water to a roaring boil BEFORE adding the noodles. This will prevent sticking and make sure the individual noodles cook evenly.

• Use the largest and deepest pot you have. Lasagna noodles are thick and long. You want your pasta to “swim” freely and not stick together. See tips below on how to slightly undercook the noodles.

• Use the largest and deepest pot you have. Lasagna noodles are thick and long. You want your pasta to “swim” freely and not stick together. See tips below on how to slightly undercook the noodles.

close up image of al dente lasagna noodle

• Al dente lasagna noodles: follow the directions on the box minus 1 minute. After years of testing this seems to be the correct cooking time for lasagna noodles. They will absorb some of the sauce while cooking and get a bit softer while still holding their shape and keeping the right texture.

cooked lasagna noodles cooling on a tray

• Drain the noodles. Do NOT leave your noodles in the pot of hot water while layering your lasagna. Cook all of the noodles and set aside before you start to assemble.

• Do NOT rinse your noodles. You can go to pasta jail for doing this in Italy! When you rinse pasta you remove the necessary starches that help the noodles bind to the sauce ingredients.

• Do NOT rinse your noodles. You can go to pasta jail for doing this in Italy! When you rinse pasta you remove the necessary starches that help the noodles bind to the sauce ingredients.

cooked lasagna noodles cooling on a tray

• Let the noodles cool before assembling. Do this by laying them on a clean and damp kitchen cloth and covering them with another damp cloth to separate the next layer of noodle sheets.

Can I Use No-Boil Noodles For Lasagna?

Yes! It is an easy alternative if you want to skip the step of boiling noodles. You do not need to boil them! Here is why: no-boil lasagna noodles often are thinner than regular lasagna noodles and are partially cooked prior to being dried and packaged. They don't require boiling, but they need additional liquid to cook properly during baking. Tip: We recommend adding about ½ cup of water to your sauce to keep it nice and saucy. If your sauce is too thick, your noodles won’t have enough liquid to cook and soften. Also, when constructing your lasagna with no-boil noodles, make sure to cover the noodles completely with sauce to avoid dry spots.

Can I Use Gluten-Free Lasagna And Where Do I Buy?

Yes! Shop DeLallo Gluten-Free Lasagna Noodles.

gluten free lasaga bake in cast iron skilled
product image of gluten free lasagna in package

Lasagna Sauce

What Is The Best Sauce For Lasagna?

This is sort of like picking a favorite child! Impossible. There are several delicious types of sauces that work well in lasagna and they are all delicious in their own way. A general rule for lasagna sauces - make sure they aren’t too runny or watery. The most popular is a tomato sauce, but in Italy however, it is common to include both a tomato sauce and a white sauce. Both sauces are important for the lasagna. A cream-based sauce keeps things moist and counters the acidity of the tomatoes.

Here are a few popular lasagna sauce options:

bowl of marinara sauce with wooden spoon
bowl of white cream sauce with wooden spoon

White Cream Sauce
• Bechamel
Alfredo

What Type Of Meat Is Used In Lasagna?

Want to include information on adding meat to the lasagna. Making it a layer or made in the sauce to save a step. Include that all meat needs to be cooked and drained.

Here are a few popular lasagna meat options:

      • Ground beef
      • Ground turkey
      • Ground chicken
      • Ground veal
      • Sausage
      • Mini meatballs
      • Pepperoni

Lasagna Cheese

What Are The Best Cheeses For Lasagna?

Bechamel, ricotta and cottage cheese are great options for the creamy smooth layer of the lasagna that is nestled between the noodle sheet. It’s personal preference, but Bechamel is traditionally used in Italy, Ricotta is usually seen in most classic American-style lasagna and cottage cheese is typically used as a low fat substitute for both.

image of cottage cheese and ricotta in white bowls

Bechamel

    • What is bechamel? Simply put, it is a milk sauce thickened and cooked with a binder of butter and flour, called roux. Béchamel, which is one of the “mother sauces” of French cuisine, is commonly used in Italian kitchens as well. Classic bechamel recipe here. Bechamel should coat your spoon but be thin enough to spread easily.

    • Tips for making Bechamel: Make sure to constantly whisk while adding flour, then milk. This will prevent lumps from forming. This sauce is best used fresh, but it can be made 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat gently in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water before using.

    • Is there a substitute for bechamel? For a quick substitution to counter acidity of tomatoes, add a couple of splashes or heavy cream to the tomato sauce. You can also substitute for an alfredo sauce.

Ricotta

    • Tips for using ricotta: Strain your ricotta. Who likes a runny lasagna? The number one cause of drippy lasagna (besides cutting into it too quickly) is wet ricotta. Strain your ricotta with cheesecloth before you layer up your baked pasta. Ricotta can be strained for up to 24 hours before using. Also, make a filling. You can use it straight, but we like to flavor it with salt and pepper, eggs and parmesan cheese. The egg gives the ricotta an extra firmness to keep all of the ingredients sticking together.

Cottage cheese

    • For a lighter lasagna, cottage cheese is the way to go. It has less fat, but just be sure to drain it well.

Melting Cheese

    • Once you choose if you are using ricotta, bechamel or cottage cheese, you need to decide which melting cheese you want to include. Usually Ricotta plus 1 to 2 other cheeses. Mozzarella is typical, but here are some others that we’ve tried and work well:


Common Questions About Lasagna

How Do I Layer And Assemble Lasagna?

The key in layering the lasagna is creating the right ratio of red and white sauces to noodles. Most recipes are made for a 9”x13” pan and we recommend 3 layers of noodles or more.

baking dish with marinara sauce in the bottom

• Spread a thin layer of red pasta sauce in the bottom of a lasagna baking dish.

baking dish with layer of marinara sauce and lasagna noodles

• Add a layer of cooked or no-boil lasagna noodles. It’s okay if you have to cut the sheets to fit the pan.

baking dish with layer of marinara sauce, lasagna noodles and white sauce

• Spread an even layer, about ⅓ of the white sauce or ricotta mixture with the back of a spoon.

• Spread an even layer, about ⅓ of the red sauce.

• Spread an even layer, about ⅓ of the red sauce.

baking dish with layer of marinara sauce, lasagna noodles, white sauce and meat

• Spread a layer of the meat or vegetables

baking dish with layer of marinara sauce, lasagna noodles, white sauce, meat and shredded cheese

• Spread a layer of melting cheese (mozzarella).

• Repeat these layers two more times.

• Repeat these layers two more times.

• Top the lasagna with a final layer of noodles, white sauce/ricotta and red sauce, mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

• Top the lasagna with a final layer of noodles, white sauce/ricotta and red sauce, mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

baking dish with layer of marinara sauce, lasagna noodles, white sauce, meat, shredded and grated cheese ready for baking

Does Lasagna Need To Be Covered With Foil When Baking?

Yes, to prevent it from drying out. We recommend removing the foil for the last 20 minutes of the bake time to brown the top.

How Long Do You Bake Lasagna?

For most recipes, bake the lasagna at 350-375°F for 45-65 minutes depending on the exact recipe.

      • Get it brown and bubbly. Don’t forget to remove the foil covering on your lasagna for the last 15-20 minutes of cook time. As you know, a browned top with bubbling cheese is where it’s at!

      • Let it rest. It’s tempting not to cut into that lasagna as soon as it comes out of the oven, but you have to wait. Let the lasagna rest uncovered for at least 20-40 minutes to cool down to avoid a soupy mess. It needs time to set and firm up, this happens as it cools.

Can Lasagna Be Made Ahead Of Time?

Yes, you can make lasagna a day ahead of time. Fully assemble and refrigerate. We recommend that you pull the lasagna out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature at least one hour ahead of baking to adhere to original bake times. Or add about 10 minutes to the bake time if baking a refrigerated pan of lasagna.

What Do I Do With Leftover Lasagna?

Lasagna leftovers... Oh yes! In fact, lasagna tastes even better the longer it sets. If you assemble and bake the lasagna ahead of time, it keeps in the fridge for about three days. To keep it longer, freeze it and reheat it before serving.

How Do I Freeze Lasagna?

Before lasagna is baked. Freezing the assembled lasagna before it is baked helps maintain the lasagna’s sauce and noodle texture and prevent it from getting too soggy. After assembling the lasagna in an oven safe pan, wrap the top with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Then, write the date and freeze until ready to use! When you’re ready to use your frozen lasagna, transfer it to the refrigerator and let it defrost overnight. Then, take it out of the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes-1 hour while your oven preheats. Bake and Pronto! Lasagna is ready!

After lasagna is baked. Make sure your lasagna cools before freezing it. You can freeze the large part that is leftover or break it up into individual servings first. Transfer the slices of lasagna into freezer-safe food containers or wrap the slices first in plastic wrap and then in foil, and store them in a freezer storage bag. To reheat the large or individual slices- simply remove the lasagna’s freezer wrappings, cover the top with new foil and bake until heated through. You can also microwave it. That’s it! Lunch or dinner is ready on a busy day.

How Do I Make A Delicious Vegetarian Lasagna?

Have fun with your lasagna and introduce new flavors. Experiment with different combinations of sauces, vegetables and cheeses. Just keep an eye on how much liquid you’re using. Vegetables can create a lot of liquid, so make sure they are cooked first. Try roasting or sautéing your veggies prior to layering. If using frozen vegetables, such as spinach, make sure to strain the liquid. Here are some of our favorite vegetables:

      • Roasted Tomatoes
      • Mushrooms
      • Onions
      • Spinach
      • Kale
      • Bell Peppers
      • Zucchini
      • Butternut Squash

Here is a delicious veggie lasagna recipe.


Check Out Our Top Lasagna Recipes