The secret to the most delicious classic lasagna is to start with really, really good Homemade Marinara Sauce that's been slow simmered until it's rich and thick, and filling your whole house with the most intoxicating aroma.
Stir in plenty of Italian sausage and then layer it up with sheets of pasta and lots and lots of cheese.
The BEST Classic Lasagna Starts with Really Good Marinara Sauce
Classic Lasagna is pretty basic - meat sauce, ricotta cheese, mozzarella and parmesan, and noodles. Layer it up and throw it in the oven.
What separates the super amazing lasagna from the mediocre is the marinara sauce.
Delicious lasagna is all about the sauce.That's why this recipe starts with my absolute favorite homemade marinara sauce.
Oh, friends. This sauce is the bomb. My friend Judy, the "Pasta Queen" who taught me how to make homemade pasta, said this marinara sauce was "the best I've ever made, and perhaps the best I've ever eaten."
Making the sauce takes only about 15 minutes of hands on time. After that, simply let it simmer away for a couple of hours until it's rich and thick and incredibly flavorful.
This will make your house smell like an Italian grandmother moved in and started cooking for you. I mean... if comfort has a smell, it's this sauce simmering away on the stove.
When possible, make the marinara sauce in advance
Unless I already have some marinara sauce in the freezer, I usually make a big pot of marinara one day, serving it with pasta for dinner that evening. The rest gets packed away in the refrigerator for lasagna later that week.
This is good advice for a couple of reasons:
- It splits the lasagna prep time up across two days. Take 20 minutes (actual hands-on prep time) to make the sauce in advance and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. With your marinara sauce already made, assembling the lasagna will only take about 20 minutes. Knowing that I am only 20 minutes away from putting an amazingly delicious lasagna in the oven - THIS is a big deal to me and one of the reasons I almost always have some marinara sauce in the freezer.
- It gets even better when allowed to sit for a day or two. Convenience factors aside, this is the biggest reason to make the sauce in advance. You make the sauce. You taste the sauce. You think there is no possible way it can get any better. Then, you let it sit for a couple of days and somehow, magically, it does.
Having said all that, making the sauce in advance is totally not necessary. Just get a pot of marinara going in the morning or early afternoon, letting it cool for an hour or so before assembling and baking a pan of lasagna.
What to do with leftover marinara sauce:
The recipe for Homemade Marinara Sauce makes about 11 cups of sauce. You'll only need about half that amount for this lasagna. You could certainly cut the recipe in half if you like. But, having extra marinara sauce on hand is one of the BEST things ever. Here's what to do with it...
Freeze it. When stored in an airtight container or zip top bag, homemade marinara sauce freezes really well for up to 3 months. I almost always have some in my freezer because it's perfect for those nights when you want a home cooked meal but don't actually want to do any cooking.
Use the leftover sauce to make any number of delicious dishes:
- Make a few meatballs, cook them in a few cups of marinara, and spoon over plates of pasta.
- Make some Indian Shrimp and Rice. For this 30-minute meal, cook some shrimp in Indian spiced marinara cream sauce and spoon it over rice.
- Spread spoonfuls of marinara over soft and chewy pizza dough for the most delicious Homemade Pizza.
- Make some eggplant or chicken parmesan.
- Make Chachouka - a delicious vegetarian North African pepper and tomato stew that comes together in just a few minutes.
- Possibly my favorite thing to do with leftover marinara is to make Sausage, Marinara, and Provolone Sandwiches
The BEST Lasagna Has Plenty of Cheese!
This lasagna recipes calls for a lot of cheese, because I feel very strongly that cheese is one of the main points of lasagna.
If you want to get skimpy with cheese, lasagna isn't the place to do it. Pile on the cheese, baby. Now is not the time to show restraint.
On the other hand, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. I know. It's hard to imagine how there could ever be too much cheese, but it's true.
I've found that about 1 cup of grated motzerella per layer (plus ricotta and parmesan) is enough to drape each bite in decadent cheesiness without overkill.
Speaking of ricotta....
Season it. Sometimes this gets overlooked, but it's pretty important. Unseasoned ricotta is pretty bland, and bland is not something we're going for here.
Add some parmesan in there along with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and an egg for added richness and structure, and every bite will be packed with flavor.
What are the Best Kind of Noodles to Use for Lasagna?
Homemade pasta? Regular lasagna noodles? No-boil noodles? What kind of pasta should you use?
My first choice for pasta is always homemade pasta. It's just so much better than anything that comes dried and pre-packaged.
And yet, even though making pasta doesn't take nearly as much time as you might think, it does take time that I don't always have. So, when I'm not making homemade pasta, I usually use no-boil oven ready lasagna noodles.
Open up the package and layer them right in the pan, no boiling required. This saves a considerable amount of time and hassle, something I'm super grateful for on the nights when I don't have time to make it from scratch.
If you can't find no-boil noodles, purchase whatever variety you like and follow the package instructions to boil the noodles before assembling the lasagna.
Pro tip if using traditional dried noodles: Toss the cooked noodles with a bit of olive oil so they don't stick together. (Does not apply to no-boil noodles.) As the noodles cool, they will stick together unless you coat them with a bit of oil.
Also - if you're using traditional lasagna noodles, be careful to not overcook them. You want them to be super al dente - tender, but not cooked through. Typically, this means cooking them for only about two minutes.
More Lasagna Recipes:
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb ground Italian sausage, spicy or mild or a combination of both
- 5 ½ cups perfect homemade marinara sauce
- 2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 12 oven ready lasagna noodles (*see note)
- 16 oz (4 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook until no pink remains, using the spoon to break the sausage up into small pieces as it cooks. Dump the sausage into the marinara sauce, stir, and set aside.
- Add the ricotta, 1 & ½ cups grated parmesan, egg, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to a bowl and stir to combine.
- Ladle about ¼ cup of the marinara sauce into a 9 x 13 rectangular baking dish and spread it out so it covers the entire bottom of the dish. Lay 4 lasagna noodles over the sauce, across the bottom of the pan. They will overlap a bit. Spread ⅓ of the ricotta mixture over the noodles into an even layer. Ladle 1 & ¾ cups of marinara sauce and sausage over the ricotta mixture, spreading it out into an even layer. Top the sauce with 1 cup grated mozzarella.
- Repeat this layering process two more times: 4 noodles, ⅓ of the ricotta mixture, 1 & ¾ cup marinara sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella cheese. With each layer, gently press the noodles down with your hands or the back of a spatula to compact each layer into the pan.
- Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of grated parmesan over the final layer of mozzarella cheese.
- Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with non-stick baking spray and loosely cover the pan of lasagna. Set the pan on a baking sheet (to catch any drips) and bake for 35 minutes (*see note). Remove the foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the cheese on the top is completely melted and just beginning to brown and the lasagna is bubbly around the edges.
- Remove the lasagna from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Letting it rest is important - it will be "soupy" and difficult to serve straight from the oven.
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Scroll down to rate this recipe and leave a comment for me!
If you're using traditional lasagna noodles, instead of the oven-ready variety, be sure to toss the cooked noodles with a bit of olive oil so they don't stick together. Also, be super careful to not overcook them. You want them to be super al dente - tender, but not cooked through. Typically, this means cooking them for only about two minutes.
You can also use fresh, homemade pasta in this recipe. Roll the pasta to about 1/16 inch thick and 3 inches wide.
The cook time in this recipe is based on using cold marinara sauce. If you're using hot marinara sauce to assemble your lasagna, this will probably shorten the baking time by 10 - 15 minutes.
If you have leftover lasagna, or if you freeze this lasagna and need to reheat it later, this is the best way to reheat lasagna.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 856Total Fat: 51gSaturated Fat: 24gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 25gCholesterol: 162mgSodium: 2341mgCarbohydrates: 50gFiber: 5gSugar: 11gProtein: 48g