Best Lasagne

Lasagne

Growing up, in a Japanese-American household, we had an interesting mix of foods that graced our dinner table. It’s only after I left home that I came to recognize them as comfort foods. Mac and Cheese didn’t make the list, but Japanese Curry and Spaghetti with Meat Sauce were some regulars. Lasagne is another classic comfort food that made it onto our dinner table for special occasions and to this day, it’s one of my all-time favorites.

With a savory meat sauce, between layers of tender noodles that have absorbed all the great flavors of the sauce, and a caramelized layer of cheese on top, it may very well be the ultimate comfort food. Recently, I was tasked with cooking for a large family gathering in Japan that involved both older folks and young kids. Flipping through my mental rolodex of crowd-pleasers, Lasagne quickly floated to the top of the list. When I realized I’d never shared my lasagne recipe with you guys, the decision was made.

Finished Lasagne

I knew I made the right choice, when I saw a 90 year old Japanese grandma, who’d probably only eaten pasta a handful of times in her lifetime, clean her plate with a contented expression on her face. The only bummer was that the casserole dish was practically licked clean by the time I went back for a second slice. Next time I’m doubling the recipe!

If you’re wondering where the ricotta is, it’s a personal preference. For me, adding ricotta makes lasagne far too rich to eat more than one slice. My version takes a more balanced approach between the cheese, pasta and sauce, which will have you going back for seconds and thirds.

My version of Lasagne isn’t very complicated to make, but there are a few closely guarded secrets I’ve integrated over the years that set it apart from the rest.

  1. Use a mix of meat – I use a 5:2 ratio of beef to pork, but you could also make this with Italian sausage, or even minced bacon. You want enough beef in the mix that it has a solid beefy flavor, but adding in some pork brings depth and umami to the mixture.
  2. Mushroom powder – Dried mushrooms have a boatload of umami compounds and when powderize they make a great natural alternative to MSG. I grated in a dried shiitake mushroom with a microplane, but porcinis would work great as well.
  3. Add sweetness – Because most canned tomatoes lack the sweetness of sun-ripened tomatoes, I find sauces made from them often taste tart and one dimensional. This is easily corrected by adding a grated carrot. It not only contributes a wonderful vegetal flavor, it adds sweetness naturally without using refined sugar.
  4. Parboil the pasta – Some recipes call for assembling lasagnes using uncooked pasta. This makes the pasta absorb most of the liquid from the sauce, making it dry and gummy. On the flip-side, cooking the pasta for the time specified on the package results in a lasagne with soggy noodles. That’s why I like to par-boil the noodles for about 3 minutes less than what the package directions specify. This removes the excess starch and allows the noodles to plump up, but they’re not fully cooked, so they don’t get too soft while the lasagne bakes in the oven. I don’t usually add oil when boiling pasta, but for lasagne I make and exception because the large surface area of the noodles will make them stick together, and they become almost impossible to separate.
  5. Use a mix of cheese – While most recipes call for using Mozzarella in Lasagne, mozzarella contributes very little flavor because it has not been aged. That’s why I like using a mixture of Mozzarella with Gruyere (you can also use Comté). Its a melting cheese that’s aged for 3-10 months, giving it a rich nutty flavor that lends the Mozzarella a helping hand.

Oops, there go my secrets… but hopefully you’ve learned a trick or two.

The Best Lasagne

You can make the sauce a few days in advance and store it in the fridge, but boil the noodles and assemble the lasagne the day you plan to serve it. This gives the flavors in the sauce a chance to meld without making the noodles soggy. It should also give you enough time on the day of your dinner to crank out a few other dishes to impress your guests.

Equipment you'll need:

    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    Votes: 4
    Rating: 3.5
    You:
    Rate this recipe!
    Best Lasagne
  • A classic Lasagne updated with a few modern tricks.
ServingsPrep TimeCook Time
8 people 20 minutes 100 minutes

Ingredients

Servings: people
Units:

Instructions

  1. Add the olive oil to a large pot along with the onions, garlic and carrot. Cover with a lid and cook over medium low heat until the onions are soft and translucent. The moisture released by the vegetables should keep them from burning, but if they start burning, turn down the heat and add a little water.
  2. Once the onions are cooked, remove the lid and turn up the heat, sautéing until the mixture is 1/3 the original volume and starting to caramelize.
  3. Push the vegetables to the sides of the pan, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the ground beef and pork. Use a spatula to break up the clumps.
  4. Add the milk and boil, continuing to break up the clumps until the beef is cooked and there is no liquid left.
  5. Add the wine and boil until most of the liquid has evaporated and there is no smell of alcohol remaining.
  6. Add the tomatoes, using your hands to crush them into small pieces, and then add the tomato paste, salt, oregano, and black pepper.
  7. Use a microplane to shave the dried shiitake into the pot (you can also put the dried mushroom in a spice grinder and powderize).
  8. Simmer the sauce over medium low heat until it is thick (30-40 minutes).
  9. Generously salt a large pot of water and add a teaspoon of olive oil. Bring the water to a boil, then cook the pasta 3 minutes less than what the package directions say. My pasta said 9 minutes so I cooked it for 6.
  10. Place the oven rack in the top position and preheat to 350 degrees F (180 C).
  11. Put the Mozzarella and Gruyere in a bowl and toss to distribute evenly.
  12. To construct the lasagane, put down a layer of sauce that's just thick enough to cover the bottom of the dish.
  13. Sprinkle with cheese.
  14. Cover with the parboiled pasta, cutting the pasta as necessary to fill in the spaces. Repeat so that you have 3 layers of pasta.
  15. Once you have 3 layers of pasta, finish by spreading the remaining meat sauce on top of the last layer of pasta. Cover with enough cheese so that you cannot see any sauce underneath.
  16. Put the lasagne on a baking sheet to catch any spills, then place it in the oven. Bake until the sauce is hot and bubbly and the cheese has browned on top. If the sauce has been bubbling for a while and the cheese is not getting brown, turn up the heat to 450 degrees F (230 C) to finish it off.
  17. When the lasagne is done, take it out of the oven, garnish with minced parsley, and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
  • Allie

    This recipe looks delicious and the mushroom powder addition is genius!

    Allie from Urban Feast

    http://theurbanfeast.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/ann.stolzman Ann Stolzman

    I never thought about using mushroom powder. I’ll have to try that. My go-to for topping a lasagna: add a final thin sprinkle of bread crumbs mixed with parmesan. It adds a little bit of a crust that is oh-so-tasty.

  • http://www.merci-mama.com/ Jules

    Love your tips, especially grating the dried mushrooms. Not sure if I can part with not including a béchamel layer though!

  • http://kellysiewcooks.com/ Kelly Siew

    Great tips! I always have carrots (usually more than one type of vegetables) in mine and a mixture of Mozarella, Cheddar and Parmesan (Gruyere is such great idea too!). Instead of parboiling the noodles, I just make sure the meat sauce has extra moisture. I will try the mushroom powder next time!

  • Heather

    This looks phenomenal! Also, I like the idea of adding carrot. Would give it an extra touch of veggies too.

    I’ve never thought of mushrooms as tasting salty though. Then again, I’ve never tried a shiitake.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      You powderize the mushrooms yourself, so as long as you trust the dried mushrooms you buy (or dry them yourself) you should be fine. I called it natural MSG because mushrooms have a high concentration of glutamic acids, it’s what MSG is meant to mimic.

  • Angela Roberts

    This is a nice twist. I always use a carrot for my sauce too, but never mushroom powder. Great idea. Since Mozzarella is bland I add in provolone, but the gruyere idea is great too. I know I would love this.

  • Russ

    Did I miss it?…. Didn’t catch what temperature to bake the lasagne at?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Nope, my recipe platform is just broken, it keeps erasing steps. Sorry, should be fixed now.

  • justonecookbook

    I enjoyed reading about the story of your grandma. :) My 92 yo grandma mainly eats washoku too but I’d be fun to see her eat lasagne! Dried shiitake mushroom and carrot addition for lasagne is a wonderful idea. I put them in my meat sauce too.

  • Matt

    Can’t wait to try making this. What if you’re making your lasagna with fresh pasta? Do you par-boil that too?

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Matt, if you’re using fresh pasta there’s no need to par-boil as it already has a high moisture content. I do recommend however that you wash the flour off the outside of each sheet as you layer it into the lasagne (don’t do this in advance or all the pasta will stick together), otherwise the extra starch tends to make the finished lasagne gummy.

  • Jon

    Your blog is a godsend to a newbie cook like myself. The detail and (beautiful) pictures really minimize the places I can mess up. The pictures also make it easier to convince my roommates to chip in for ingredients so they can have some of the final product.

  • Ike

    My favorite lasagna is made with noodle sheets fresh off a noodle roller. If you have a roller, it doesn’t take that much longer, but it makes for a much softer casserole. I grew up Chinese-American, and lasagne was one of the few American dishes my mom appreciated, so it wins a place in my heart as a comfort food.

  • F-C

    As a native of “Franche-Comté” let me tell you that Gruyère isn’t know as Comté. Two really different cheeses !

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      You’re right, not exactly the same because the milk comes from
      two different places, but it’s close enough to be substituted, as opposed to using cheddar or gorgonzola (which really are different cheeses).

  • Kaladala

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I’m looking to try this out very soon. I also love your photography, makes for a great article.

  • Pingback: Garfield food (aka Lasagne) « On to the plate

  • John

    Thanks, this came out great and made a great main for Valentine’s Day… I’m in the other half’s good books. Owe you a beer :)

  • Donna Smith

    I made this yesterday for my husband and he loved it (so did I). The sauce is really wonderful and not at all what either of us are used to. We are used to heavy red sauces so this was a nice change. It took so little time to prepare too. I’m used to spending half a day on lasagna. Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. This is the third dish (beef teriyaki, meatloaf) I’ve made from your blog now and all have been hits!

  • David

    It’s in the oven, thanks for the concept! I had italian sausage on hand, and some fresh tomatoes that needed to be used plus a jalapeño before it went bad…sauce is great and I smoked some mozzarella and mixed some edam and parmesan….

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Sounds fantastic. Lasagne is a great way to use up odds and ends, and it keeps it interesting because it changes every time:-)

      • David

        It turned out great! Love lasagna but rarely make it because I’ve always made the “full monty” with ricotta and several layers and I try to eat a littler lighter than that usually but this is nice and light comparatively…..thanks again!

  • Sue

    Made this last night following your directions exactly…It came out really good!

  • Lili Little

    Do you have anything that would you recommend as a good alternative to red wine for this dish? I don’t really buy or keep red wine on hand since I don’t drink and it would be pointless to buy a bottle without using it all. Thank you!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Lili, you could use beef or chicken stock instead.

      • Lili Little

        Many thanks!

  • Michelle

    Hi! This looks great and I would love to make it (I, too, am not a fan of the ricotta, oh-so-rich versions). Judging by the picture you used a 9×9 baking dish, is that correct? Sorry if I missed where you specified the size.

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Michelle, nice catch, I didn’t mention the size. I’m actually not in the location I shot this right now so I don’t have access to the dish to measure it, but I remember it being a little bigger than 9×9″.

  • http://sunnydayswithmyloves.blogspot.com/ SunnyDaysNora

    Looks great! The carrot and mushroom powder are awesome ideas!

  • Mary Careddu Burke

    My problem is not preparing lasagne; it is removing it to place each serving on a dinner plate without having it fall apart. I am Italian-American but I guess my parents never taught me that. Help wanted

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      The first piece is always a challenge, but if you a have a sharp knife and a spatula you should be able to get all the subsequent pieces out okay.

  • Mark

    One thing we’ve found works well, for added richness, is adding a little bit of liver to the mix.

  • acc

    Hi Marc. I doubled the recipe and added an extra cup of carrots and think that it made the sauce extra runny and sweet. i used ground beef, a little bit of bacon, and mild italian sausage. The sauce is still simmering down. I plan on assembling the lasagna tomorrow and was hoping for your suggestions to the following:
    If the sauce is too sweet, what can I do or add to balance out the flavor?
    If the sauce still is runny, what can be done to thicken it?
    Will simmering it longer (i.e. for 1-2 add’l hours) make the meat more tender or will it compromise the dish?
    I’m using a 4qt (9″x15″) pan and have a 10+ yr old oven. How far from the top of the lasagna pan should the rack be (in inches if possible)?
    Thanks for helping my novice endeavor!

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      1 cup of carrots sounds like a lot. If it’s too sweet, about all you can do is add more salt to balance the sweetness, but you want to be careful not to make it too salty as the cheese and time in the oven will make the sauce more concentrated. As for the viscosity, cooking it down will probably be your best option. Simmering it longer will make the meat more tender, so there’s really no downside there.

      As for the oven, every oven is different, so it’s really hard to say what’s ideal, but try starting with the rack at the top and turn the heat down if the cheese looks like it’s browning too fast. On the flip side, if it’s taking too long to brown, you can crank up the heat.

  • acc

    Btw…my grocery store didn’t have stewed tomatoes so I used whole peeled san marzano tomatoes (2 x 28oz since doubling recipe) with the seeds and also poured in all the sauce in the can.

  • acc

    Sorry for all the questions…Just finished the sauce and it tastes salty (used 4 tsp salt since doubled recipe) and it seems to lack the rich tomato sauce (just looks meaty)…simmered for a total of 45 min. Please help

    • http://norecipes.com Marc Matsumoto

      Some brands of tomatoes have more salt than others, which could be part of the problem. If there’s no sauce at all, you can try adding some water back in to make it more saucy and reduce the saltiness. Or if you have another can of tomatoes you can try adding that.

Welcome!

I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!