Lasagna bolognese is rich and saucy casserole made by layering pasta, meaty Bolognese sauce, and creamy parmesan béchamel. While not traditional, this recipe includes the option of adding some additional cheese because, mmmmmmm, cheese.
This dish is comfort food 101 and designed to spoil yourself and everyone you love.
What is Lasagna Bolognese?
When many of us think about lasagna, we imagine the "classic" variety - pasta layered with marinara, sausage and plenty of ricotta and mozzarella cheese.
Lasagna Bolognese begins, of course, with Bolognese sauce, a gorgeous sauce that includes pancetta (or bacon) and ground beef cooked slowly in wine and tomatoes until it's incredibly rich and flavorful. Instead of ricotta, lasagna bolognese includes layers of creamy béchamel, usually flavored with grated parmesan.
"Traditional" lasagna bolognese does not include the addition of grated cheese within its layers. But, traditions are made to be broken, and I nearly always add some grated cheese between the layers of pasta, Bolognese sauce, and béchamel.
Whether or not you add some grated cheese is 100% up to you. Thanks to the creamy béchamel sauce, this lasagna is delicious with or without it.
What is Bolognese sauce?
Bolognese sauce (agù alla bolognese) is a rich, meaty, tomato based sauce that includes ground beef and small bits of fatty pork such as pancetta or bacon.
The sauce originates from Bologna, Italy, but is known world wide as one of the most delicious comfort foods. There are several ways to make a good Bolognese sauce, but this recipe with bacon and wine is my favorite.
Just like a good marinara sauce, bolognese needs a long, slow simmer to concentrate the flavor and thicken into the glorious culinary masterpiece that it is. So, if you're making the sauce on the same day you plan to bake lasagna, start early.
Bolognese sauce can also be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. You can freeze Bolognese sauce, although I find that the texture of the ground beef suffers a bit from freezing. In general, I prefer to make the sauce within a day or two of making lasagna.
What is Béchamel Sauce?
Béchamel (besciamella) is a creamy sauce made from a white roux (flour and butter) and milk. While often flavored with salt and nutmeg, béchamel is the kind of sauce that can easily be infused with pretty much any variety of herbs and other flavorings.
In this recipe, the sauce is flavored with crushed red pepper, a touch of nutmeg, and grated parmesan cheese. I've also opted to use half and half instead of milk because it makes the sauce more stable and less likely to break and separate while cooking.
Parmesan béchamel is rich, creamy, and positively luxurious. It's also surprisingly simple to make.
How to make Parmesan Béchamel Sauce:
#1. Cook some butter and flour in a saucepan until it's smooth and foamy. This is the roux - a combination of flour and fat that serves to thicken the béchamel.
#2. Gradually pour in a quart of half and half, whisking constantly as you do. It's very important to add the half and half slowly while whisking. If you add it all at once, you'll end up with a lumpy sauce.
#3. Add a bit of ground nutmeg and crushed red pepper flakes and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until the béchamel is thickened and does not taste like raw flour, about 12 minutes.
When the sauce is ready, it will be thick enough to coat a spoon.
#4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in 4.5 oz grated parmesan, stirring until the cheese is melted. Stir in some fresh basil (I used purple basil, but any variety will do), and salt and pepper to taste.
That's it. At this point you can cover the sauce and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
Warm the béchamel over low heat before using to make lasagna. Or, simply cover the pan to keep the sauce warm and proceed with the recipe.
What kind of pasta is best for lasagna bolognese?
I have made lasagna bolognese with fresh sheets of pasta, regular dried lasagna noodles that have been boiled, and ready to bake, no-boil lasagna noodles. To my surprise, I preferred the no-boil noodles over the other options.
I also made this lasagna with no-boil noodles that had been pulled straight from the package and with noodles that had been soaked for about 10 minutes in hot water. Again, to my surprise, I preferred the lasagna in which the oven-ready noodles had been soaked.
Pre-soaking the noodles prevented them from absorbing too much moisture from the béchamel and bolognese sauces, resulting in the creamiest, sauciest lasagna.
To soak the noodles, simply lay them out in a baking dish, drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Then, add enough hot water to cover the noodles. Swish them around in the pan and then let them soak for 10 minutes.
After soaking, simply lay the noodles out on a clean kitchen towel, blotting them with a paper towel to dry.
How to make Lasagna Bolognese:
Making lasagna bolognese is as simple as layering pasta, Bolognese sauce, parmesan béchamel, and some grated cheese, if you please.
Layer #1: Spread 1 cup Bolognese sauce over the bottom of a 9x13-inch rectangle baking dish, preferably ceramic or glass. Do NOT use an aluminum pan as the aluminum can react to the acid in the bolognese sauce and cause the lasagna to take on an off-putting metallic flavor.
Place 4 noodles in a single layer over the sauce then spread the noodles with 1 cup of the parmesan béchamel.
Pour 1 ½ cups Bolognese sauce over the béchamel, spreading it out into an even layer. Then, sprinkle the bolognese with ½ cup (2 oz) cheese, if using.
Layer #2: Lay 4 more noodles in a single layer over the first layer.
Spread another cup of the the parmesan béchamel over the noodles, followed by another 1 ½ cups of Bolognese sauce.
Sprinkle the bolognese with ½ cup (2 oz) cheese.
Layer #3: Lay the remaining 4 noodles in a single layer over layer #2.
Spread the rest of the parmesan béchamel over the noodles, followed by the remaining Bolognese sauce.
If you're using extra grated cheese, sprinkle the remaining cup over the top of the lasagna.
Cover the lasagna with a sheet of aluminum foil (or parchment paper, or the lid to your casserole dish if you have one). If using foil, spray it with a bit of non-stick spray to prevent the cheese from sticking to it.
Bake the lasagna until the sauce is all bubbly around the edges, about 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Even though it's SUPER hard to wait, let the lasagna rest for 15-20 minutes before cutting into it. This will help the liquids in the lasagna to be reabsorbed into the casserole, making it easier to slice.
Full disclosure: Even after resting, this is a sloppy, saucy kind of lasagna. Just the way we like it.
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Scroll down to rate this recipe and leave a comment or question, or take a picture and tag it @alittleandalot on Instagram.
For the Parmesan Béchamel:
- 6 tablespoon (3oz/ 84g) salted butter, cut into 6 pieces
- ¼ cup (30g) all-purpose flour
- 4 cups (1 quart) half and half
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper
- 4.5 ounces (1 ½ cups) finely grated parmesan cheese
- ½ cup, packed (.6 oz) chopped fresh basil
For the Lasagna:
- 12 oven ready, no-boil lasagna noodles
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cups Bolognese sauce, warmed
- 3 cups (12 oz) grated Italian blend cheese, optional (*See note)
- 1-2 cups (3-6oz) grated parmesan, for serving (optional)
Make the Parmesan Bechamel:
- Add the butter to a 3 quart or larger saucepan and set it over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.
- Add the half and half gradually, whisking constantly as you slowly pour it into the saucepan. Add the nutmeg and red pepper flakes and bring the sauce to a simmer.
- Cook over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until the Bechamel is thickened and does not taste like raw flour, about 12 minutes. (The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon; see photos above.)
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in 4.5 oz grated parmesan, stirring until the cheese is melted.
- Stir in the fresh basil. Add salt and pepper to taste, then cover and set aside. (*See notes below for make-ahead instructions.)
Make the Lasagna:
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C).
- Lay the the noodles out in a 9x13 baking dish. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle in 1 tablespoon salt. Add enough very hot water (about 140 degrees F/ 60 degrees C) to cover the noodles. Swish the noodles around in the water and then let stand for 10 minutes, moving them around once or twice to ensure they don’t stick together.
- Remove the noodles from the water and lay them out on a clean kitchen towel. Pat dry with another towel or paper towels.
- Dump the water out of the baking dish and dry with a towel.
- Layer #1: Spread 1 cup Bolognese sauce over the bottom of the baking dish. Place 4 noodles in a single layer over the sauce. Spread 1 cup (⅓ of the sauce) of the parmesan béchamel over the noodles. Pour 1 ½ cups of the bolognese over the béchamel, spreading it out into an even layer. Sprinkle the bolognese with ½ cup (2 oz) cheese, if using.
- Layer #2: Lay 4 noodles in a single layer over layer #1. Spread 1 cup (⅓ of the sauce) of the parmesan béchamel over the noodles. Pour 1 ½ cups of the bolognese over the béchamel, spreading it out into an even layer. Sprinkle the bolognese with ½ cup (2 oz) cheese, if using.
- Layer #3: Lay 4 noodles in a single layer over layer #2., Spread the remaining parmesan béchamel over the noodles. Spread the , the remaining bolognese over the béchamel. Top with 1 cup (4oz) cheese, if using.
- Cover the lasagna tightly with aluminum foil that’s been sprayed with a bit of non-stick baking spray. (The baking spray will keep the cheese from sticking to the foil.) Set the pan on a baking sheet that's been covered with a sheet of aluminum foil (to catch any drips). Bake in the center of the oven until the edges of the lasagna are bubbling, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Remove the lasagna from the oven and let the lasagna stand, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.
- Serve with additional grated parmesan if desired.
Make Ahead Instructions:
Bolognese Sauce can be made up to 3 days in advance of using for this lasagna. Store it in the refrigerator in a covered container. Warm over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent the bottom from scortching. Or, reheat in the microwave, stopping to stir every 60 - 90 seconds, until warm.
Parmesan béchamel can be made up to a day in advance of using it for this lasagna. Store it in the refrigerator in a covered container. Warm over low heat, whisking until smooth.
The assembled, uncooked lasagna can be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Cover, and keep in the refrigerator until ready to bake.
Once cooked, lasagna bolognese will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 2 days.
What is Italian Blend Cheese and why is it optional in this recipe?
Besides the parmesan folded into the Bechamel sauce, Lasagna Bolognese does not traditionally include additional cheese. So, in this recipe, layering in some extra cheese is optional.
If you do opt for adding cheese to your lasagna, look for an Italian blend of grated cheese. Italian blend ususally includes Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, mozzarella and provolone
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 864Total Fat: 58gSaturated Fat: 30gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 173mgSodium: 1463mgCarbohydrates: 46gFiber: 4gSugar: 9gProtein: 40g