This classic Italian lasagna is made with a creamy bechamel sauce, slow-simmered meat ragu sauce, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and tender homemade lasagna noodles.
Known in Italy as lasagne al forno, this classic lasagna recipe has five layers of fresh pasta sheets (you can substitute oven-ready noodles). Italian food makes me want to travel to Italy, it's that good!
The hearty ragu sauce can be simmered in a slow cooker, adding more convenience to this pasta dish. Try another classic recipe from Italy- authentic Italian meatballs and spaghetti.
What I Love About This Recipe
This is the best lasagna recipe I've ever had, especially if you have a chance to make some homemade lasagna noodles! The lasagna literally melts in your mouth. I prefer the creamy béchamel sauce to ricotta cheese because it makes the lasagna smooth and creamy. Also, I love that this recipe makes a large serving size, so it's perfect for leftovers.
The best part of this classic Italian lasagna recipe is the slow-simmered beef and tomato ragu sauce. Here are the ingredients for this meat and tomato sauce:
- Ground beef: I prefer 90%-95% lean beef because it doesn't make the sauce too rich.
- Passata (strained tomato sauce): Passata is the same as blended and strained tomatoes. I recommend buying passata at the grocery store. Alternatives to passata are crushed tomatoes, plain tomato sauce, and whole peeled tomatoes (you must blend them before using them).
- Diced olives: Use any type of pitted olive.
- Vegetables: Finely dice carrots, celery, and onion.
For the rest of the lasagna:
- Parmigiano Reggiano: This popular salty cheese is similar to parmesan. Use either cheese but make sure they are finely grated.
- The bechamel sauce: Use cow's milk (any kind), butter, and flour to make the bechamel.
- Ground nutmeg: I use freshly ground nutmeg by grinding the whole nutmeg with a Microplane zester.
- Lasagna noodles: I recommend using homemade lasagna noodles or oven-ready lasagna noodles. I recommend boiling the oven-ready lasagna noodles for about two minutes (until they soften) before assembling the lasagna dish. If you skip a pre-boil, the oven-ready lasagna noodles will soak up the liquid and dry out the lasagna. You can also use regular lasagna noodles (with a wavy edge) by following the directions on the box.
See the recipe card at the bottom of the post for quantities.
How To Make Classic Italian Lasagna
This authentic Italian lasagna is made in 3 steps: make the ragu meat sauce, prepare the bechamel sauce, and make the lasagna.
Make the Meat Ragu
Prepare the meat ragu sauce first because it takes the longest to make.
Add the olive oil on medium-high heat in a large nonstick pot. Add the diced onions, carrots, celery, and crushed garlic. Once the vegetables have softened, add the ground beef.
Break up the clumps until the beef is cooked through. Add a bay leaf.
Add the passata, olives, salt, and red wine (if used). Bring the meat ragu sauce to a simmer (on medium-low heat) and cover with a lid.
Slow-simmer the meat and tomato sauce covered for 2 hours.
Optional cooking method: This ragu sauce can simmer in a slow cooker. Cook the meat and tomato sauce in a slow cooker for four hours on high or eight hours on low.
Make the Béchamel Sauce
Prepare the creamy bechamel sauce by melting butter in a stovetop pot. Add the flour, continuing to whisk on medium-high heat for about 30 seconds.
Pour the milk into the stovetop pot while continuing to whisk. The bechamel sauce will thicken up gradually.
Remove from the stovetop when the creamy white sauce can coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add a pinch of salt, black pepper, and ground nutmeg.
Make the Lasagna
Prepare the lasagna noodles. I recommend using homemade lasagna noodles or oven-ready lasagna noodles and boiling them. No-boil lasagna noodles are the same as oven-ready. I boil the noodles so they are soft and pliable, and don't soak up the meat sauce from the lasagna while baking.
To prepare the no-boil noodles, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil 5 to 6 sheets of lasagna for about 2 minutes (or until they soften). Lay the sheet of pasta on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet individually. Add parchment paper in between lasagna noodles so they don't stick together.
To prepare regular box lasagna noodles, follow the instructions on the box. The instructions usually look something like this: bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add all of the noodles at once. Cook the noodles for about 10 to 12 minutes and then lay them out individually.
Ladle some meat ragu sauce into the 9"x13" baking dish. Add the first layer of lasagna noodles. Ladle another layer of meat ragu sauce.
Add bechamel sauce then just a little bit of thinly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Next, add another layer of pasta, meat ragu sauce, bechamel sauce, and cheese.
Continue until you have 5 layers of lasagna noodles. The top layer is lightly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Bake the lasagna in a 350 ℉ (175 ℃) oven for about 40 minutes.
Tips and Tricks
Slow-simmer the meat ragu sauce! The majority of the flavor in this lasagna recipe comes from the slow-infused meat and tomato sauce.
Boil oven-ready lasagna noodles. Boil the oven-ready lasagna noodles for about two minutes or until the noodle softens. This step ensures the noodles don't soak up too much moisture, drying out the lasagna while it bakes.
Make homemade lasagna noodles. If you have time and a pasta attachment, make the lasagna noodles fresh. I recommend making the pasta noodles after putting the beef ragu on the stove. Noodles take about 45 minutes to 1 hour to make, and they are a lot of fun to do with kids. Fresh pasta sheets need to be boiled (for about two to three minutes) before assembling the lasagna dish.
Variations and Substitutions
- Simmer the meat ragu sauce in a slow cooker.
- Assemble the lasagna dish a day ahead if short on time.
- Make extra meat ragu sauce and freeze it. This ragu sauce is similar to bolognese meat sauce but without milk. It's a versatile pasta sauce that reheats very easily.
- Substitute parmesan cheese for Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Use any type of lasagna noodle- regular dry lasagna (with wavy edges), oven-ready lasagna sheets (flat and thin), or homemade lasagna noodles.
From start to finish this authentic Italian lasagna recipe takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes. However, it's not all active time.
The meat sauce takes 2 hours to slow-simmer on the stovetop. While the meat sauce is cooking, you can prepare fresh lasagna noodles (if made). Alternatively, you can simmer the ragu sauce hands-off in a slow cooker.
The bechamel sauce takes about 10 minutes and boiling the lasagna noodles takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Assembling the lasagna takes 5 minutes, and baking takes about 40 minutes.
- Lasagna baking dish around 9"x13" in size
- Stovetop pot or slow cooker for the meat ragu sauce
- Chef's knife and cutting board to chop the vegetables
- A second stovetop pot for the bechamel sauce
- Microplane zester to freshly grind the whole nutmeg (or buy ground nutmeg)
This lasagna is freezer-friendly by storing it in an airtight container not baked. When ready to bake, allow it to thaw before baking.
Store the cooked lasagna with bechamel sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave.
Traditional Italian lasagna recipes use a creamy homemade bechamel sauce, not ricotta. Ricotta and mozzarella cheese is more of an Americanized version of lasagna.
The first layer is the meat and tomato sauce, then the lasagna noodle, followed by the meat and tomato sauce, a bechamel sauce layer, and some thinly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Continue this sequence until there are five layers of lasagna noodles. The final layer is Parmigiano Reggiano.
The white sauce is called bechamel. It's made of flour, butter, milk, salt, and ground nutmeg.
Bolognese sauce is ragu sauce but with milk added, making it creamier.
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Classic Italian Lasagna With Bechamel
- 1 lb box of oven-ready lasagna noodles or homemade lasagna noodles
- 4 ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano or parmesan
Beef Ragu Sauce
- 2 lbs ground beef 90% to 95% lean
- 52 ounces blended and strained tomatoes also known as "passata"** see note 1
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 2 carrots finely diced
- 2 celery stalks finely diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 garlic cloves crushed or minced
- 10 kalamata olives pit removed and diced
- ½ cup red wine optional
- 4 tbs butter
- 4 tbs all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Meat Ragu Sauce
- In a large pot on medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the finely diced onion, diced carrot, diced celery, and crushed garlic until it softens (about 2 to 3 minutes).
- Add the ground beef, breaking up the clumps. Once the ground beef is brown, add the tomato sauce, diced olives, salt, red wine (if using), and bay leaf.
- Simmer the beef tomato sauce covered on low heat for two hours. Alternatively, simmer the ragu meat sauce in a slow cooker on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
- In a nonstick pan on medium-high heat, add the butter. Once melted, add the flour and whisk continuously for about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the milk, continuing to mix until the sauce thickens to the point that it coats the back of a wooden spoon.
- Remove the bechamel cream sauce from the heat. Add the ground nutmeg and salt to taste. Set aside.
Make the Lasagna
- Boil the lasagna noodles. If using regular box lasagna noodles, boil per the box instructions. If using homemade lasagna noodles or oven-ready lasagna noodles, boil them five or six sheets at a time for about 2 minutes (or until soft). Lay the lasagna noodles on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Use a parchment paper in between cooked lasagna noodles so they don't stick. The noodles need to be soft and partially cooked- this step is important!
- To layer the lasagna: add some beef tomato sauce to the bottom of the 9"x13" baking dish. Add one layer of lasagna noodles. Follow that with another layer of beef tomato sauce, then the bechamel sauce, then some lightly grated parmesan cheese. Repeat this until you have 5 layers of lasagna noodles. The top of the lasagna will be bechamel and then grated parmesan.
- Bake the lasagna in a 350 ℉ (176 ℃) oven for about 40 minutes.
- Passata is strained blended tomatoes. Substitute tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes. Also, you can buy the canned whole peeled tomatoes and blitz them in the blender. For this lasagna recipe, I used two large cans of passata (each can was 26 ounces or 750 grams).
I didn't have the courage to make the noodles fresh, so i boiled the no-bake noodles (as the recipe said), and this was the more delicious pasta ever. I might go for the pasta sheets one weekend when I can block off some extra time.
SO glad you boiled the oven-ready noodles. The oven-ready noodles dry out the lasagna if they aren't pre-boiled a little bit. It adds a few extra minutes but it keeps the lasagna moist and delicious.