There are probably as many recipes for lasagna as there are Italian grandmothers in the world, each one layering in a little family history with the meat sauce, cheese, and pasta so that each pan of lasagna is its own special and perfect thing. In the test kitchen, our pan of lasagna disappeared in a matter of minutes. So maybe, if you do not have a Nonna of your own (or even if you do, shhhhh) this recipe will become your family’s traditional lasagna. It has definitely found a forever home in our recipe box.
Where many lasagnas have a light, loose meat sauce that’s full of bright tomatoes, this one leads with a Bolognese. It’s made with beef, pork, veal, anchovies, and aromatics, as well as a generous handful of fresh herbs — and it simmers on the back of the stove for up to three hours. The result is a thick, meaty sauce that’s full of savory depth and complexity. We love how the fresh basil and sage shine through the rich layers, and even the carrots and celery have a voice.
The Bolognese, per custom, is layered with a fresh, herby ricotta and — rather than hunks of buffalo mozzarella — a silky cheese sauce. The benefit of making a sauce with the mozzarella is that you can season it with garlic, nutmeg, and pepper, so it has some presence in the lasagna. It also has a wonderful texture: it’s smooth and creamy, which is nice against the lush meat and crispy Parm.
Out of the oven, all these layers come together in a dense, meaty lasagna with beautifully balanced layers. Each bite is packed with all the things — meat, cheese, herbs, pasta, yes! It’s rich, for sure, so a bright green salad dressed in something zippy would be the perfect side for it. And we’d pair with a dry white or light red.
Servings: 10 to 12
To make the Bolognese sauce: In a large Dutch oven over high heat, melt the unsalted butter and extra virgin olive oil. Add the ground beef, ground pork, ground veal, and a pinch of salt. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 7 to 10 minutes.
Transfer the meat to a strainer placed over a large bowl and allow to drain. Transfer ⅓ cup of the drained liquid back to the pot, discarding the rest. Set the meat aside.
Add the yellow onions, carrots, celery, garlic, anchovies, sage, a pinch of kosher salt, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened but not browned, about 10 minutes.
Return the meat to the pot. Add the Italian plum tomatoes, dry red wine, whole milk, chicken stock, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is slightly below the level of the meat.
Remove the bay leaves, stir in the heavy cream, and simmer for 5 minutes more.
Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes. Stir in the basil and parsley. Note: the Bolognese can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the whole-milk ricotta cheese, egg, parsley, and basil. Season with kosher salt and black pepper.
To make the cheese sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the unsalted butter, stirring occasionally, until the foaming subsides, about 1 minute. Add the all-purpose flour and whisk until blond, about 1 minute.
Add the garlic and stir to combine. Slowly pour in the whole milk, whisking continuously, until fully incorporated. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute.
Reduce the heat to low and make sure the milk remains below a simmer as you’re adding the cheese. Slowly sprinkle in the mozzarella, a few tablespoons at a time, whisking until fully melted between each addition. Whisk in the nutmeg.
Return the cheese sauce to a simmer, whisking continuously. Remove from the heat and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Place parchment paper over the surface of the cheese sauce to prevent a skin from forming, and set aside.
To assemble the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the lasagna noodles in a 9x13” baking dish, cover with hot water, and allow to soak for 15 minutes. Drain and pat the noodles dry with paper towels.
In a 9x13” baking dish, evenly layer 1 heaping cup Bolognese, ½ cup cheese sauce, ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese, 3 noodles, 1 heaping cup Bolognese, ½ cup bechamel, ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese, 3 lasagna noodles, and half of the ricotta mixture. Repeat this pattern of layers one more time.
Top the lasagna with 3 more noodles and finish with the remaining 1 heaping cup Bolognese, ½ cup cheese sauce, and ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese. The baking dish should be very full at this point.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place it on the lower rack of the oven to catch any drips. Place the lasagna on the upper rack and bake, rotating halfway through, until the edges are starting to crisp and the top is a bubbly, golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Remove the lasagna from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with additional parsley and basil, and serve.
Recipe adapted from: Serious Eats