Nothing says love like a big pan of layered cheese, pasta, meat, and sauce. This Classic Lasagna recipe is always a crowd pleaser made with 4 simple layers, and comes together in just minutes with an easy hack. The oven does the rest for you! This classic meat lasagna recipe is a traditional Italian one and sure to become a family favorite in no time!
Layers are so fun in food! We love digging into this Easy Greek 7 Layer Dip with some pita chips, baking this 3-Layered S'mores Cake for birthdays and holidays, and we can't get enough of this fun, colorful and whimsical Layered Rainbow Jello!
Classic Lasagna with meat sauce is one of the most iconic Italian comfort food recipes! Layers of rich bolognese sauce, topped with noodles, smothered with creamy ricotta cheese, and then finally sprinkled with mozzarella and parmesan, homemade comfort food doesn't get much better than this!
It has always been one of my favorite things to order when we eat out at Italian restaurants, and it's great for serving crowds because one pan serves a lot and it's easy to double the recipe.
And if you are a lasagna lover and want another totally different approach, be sure to check out my White Chicken Spinach Lasagna next! Or if you just love cheesy pasta, don't miss my Best Baked Macaroni and Cheese!
Making meat lasagna from scratch
This entire recipe is made from scratch! No canned pasta sauce or bolognese here! Homemade meat sauce has so much more flavor, and you can adjust it to your own taste by adding a little heat or more sweetness. I sometimes chop up carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms really fine and add them to my sauce for even more garden veggies.
I love learning how to make sauces from scratch because they can also be used in other recipes. This classic lasagna bolognese can easily be a spaghetti sauce instead. I've even doubled the bolognese, used half for this recipe, and threw the other half in the freezer to use later. It saves so much time! It's a slightly pared back version of my authentic bolognese that takes hours to cook but is totally worth it as well, so feel free to swap in that sauce instead if you have plenty of time or want to make this lasagna well in advance.
This classic meat lasagna with ricotta cheese is perfect for feeding a hungry crowd. It has a whopping (very filling) 12 servings which means guests can have seconds (which they probably will!) and you can save any leftovers for dinner throughout the week. Leftovers make evenings much easier for my busy family and while I have a couple complainers who generally don't like leftovers, this is one dish that they scarf down because it always tastes even better the next day.
Classic Lasagna Ingredients
- Italian sausage: I used sweet Italian sausage this time, but you can switch it for hot if you like your lasagna more on the spicy side.
- Ground beef: Lean ground beef adds a heartiness and gives that classic flavor to a good quality meat sauce.
- Onion & garlic: These two are essential in Italian cooking and really build up the flavor of our sauce!
- Tomatoes: I use three forms of tomatoes in this recipe: canned crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. This is where a lot of the rich flavor comes from but the tomato paste also serves to thicken the sauce a bit.
- Sugar: Adding a little sugar emphasizes the sweetness in the other ingredients like tomatoes, onions, and sausage while balancing out acidity.
- Herbs: Plenty of herbs, both fresh and dried! I used fresh basil (you can substitute dried basil), Italian seasoning, fennel seeds, and ground oregano. These are all fundamental herbs in Italian recipes.
- Seasoning: Salt and black pepper round off all the other flavors, and they really just bring the recipe together.
- Garnish: To top it off, another fresh herb: parsley! I love adding some extra freshness to finish rich dish like this lasagna recipe and to give it some color. Plus the red from the sauce, the white from the cheese, and the green from the parsley are the colors of Italy!
Putting it all together:
- Lasagna noodles: Personally, I don't love the no-cook lasagna noodles. But I also hate boiling lasagna noodles and dealing with that hassle. Enter my lasagna noodle hack: use regular lasagna noodles and just soak them for 20-30 minutes in hot tap water in the same pan you plan to make the lasagna in! Do this while you are making your sauce, shredding the cheese and they will be ready to go when it comes time to layer. Then just drain the water from the baking dish and move the noodles over to a baking sheet so you can layer everything in the same pan!
- Cheese layer: Three cheeses! Ricotta is mixed with egg to bind and firm the ricotta, and salt and just a bit of nutmeg for depth of flavor. Mozzarella and parmesan cheese are sprinkled on top to make this classic lasagna layer extra cheesy.
Use regular lasagna noodles and soak them for 20-30 minutes in hot tap water in the same pan you plan to make the lasagna in! It's so much easier than boiling them and they give better results than no-cook lasagna sheets.
How to make Classic Lasagna
- Cook the meat, onion, and garlic. Firstly, cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic in large dutch oven over medium heat until browned and then drain the excess grease.
2. Add the other sauce ingredients. The crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water all go in with the browned meat next. Then add the sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Stir well and reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.
3. Make the cheese layer. Next, combine the ricotta cheese, egg, salt, nutmeg, and remaining parsley in a medium bowl.
4. Soften the noodles. While you could cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions, it can be a bit of a pain and you run the risk of breaking the noodles or having them cook unevenly or break unless you have a really large pot. Instead, just soak them in really hot tap water in the baking dish for 20-30 minutes rather than dirty another pot. They won't be fully cooked, but soft enough and will finish cooking in the oven with the cheese and sauce.
5. Assemble the lasagna. Add the lasagna ingredients to to the baking dish in layers. You'll find detailed, step-by-step assembly instructions below!
6. Foil & bake! Cover the lasagna with foil then bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 25 minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to brown on top.
7. Cool. Finally, remove the lasagna from the oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Sprinkle with fresh parsley to garnish if desired!
How to layer classic lasagna
- Meat layer. Spread 1 ½ cups of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish.
- Noodles. Lay the softened lasagna noodles in a single layer over the sauce.
- Ricotta mixture. Dollop half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles and spread in a thin, even layer.
- Sprinkle cheese. Sprinkle with ⅓ of the mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup of the parmesan cheese.
5. Meat layer #2. Spread another 1 ½ cups of sauce over the cheese.
6. Noodles #2. Lay lasagna noodles in a single layer over the sauce.
7. Ricotta mixture #2. Dollop the remaining ricotta mixture over the noodles and spread in a thin, even layer.
8. Sprinkle cheese #2. Sprinkle half of the remaining mozzarella cheese, and another ¼ cup of the parmesan.
9. Meat layer #3. Top with another 1 ½ cups of sauce.
10. Noodles #3. Top with a third, final layer of lasagna noodles,
11. Meat layer #4. Cover the noodles with the remaining sauce.
12. Final layer. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
How to store lasagna
This is a great recipe to last for a couple of meals throughout the week! Allow it to cool completely, and then store this classic lasagna in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat it in the oven as before, covered with foil or in the microwave.
It's also freezer friendly! Store the cooked and cooled lasagna in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 3 months. When you're ready to reheat it, allow it to thaw in the refrigerator overnight, and then bake in the oven as before, covered with foil.
Can I make lasagna ahead of time?
Sure! After you've finished layering the ingredients, cover the dish with aluminum foil or a lid and store it in the fridge for a day or two. When you're ready to bake it, let it come to room temperature for about an hour, and then bake it as per the instructions.
What can I serve with this recipe?
Here are a few of my go-to side dishes for lasagna:
Is lasagna better with ricotta or cottage cheese?
If you're asking me, I just love the rich creaminess of ricotta in this classic homemade lasagna.
But my husband loves the poor man's version using sour cream and cottage cheese, which you can find in my baked spaghetti casserole. Either are delicious!
Do you need aluminum foil for lasagna?
You definitely do! If you skip the aluminum foil, the lasagna will become dry because there really isn't a lot of extra runny sauce in this recipe. Aluminum foil will keep the moisture in, and the lasagna will be perfect: not too dry; not too runny.
More Italian recipes you will love:
- Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
- Authentic Italian Pizzelle Recipe
- Best Bolognese Sauce
- Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
- Creamy Garlic Shrimp Pasta
- Cheesy Baked Spaghetti Casserole
- Italian Wedding Soup
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 28 ounces crushed tomatoes
- 12 ounces tomato paste
- 15 ounces tomato sauce
- ½ cup water
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- ½ cup fresh chopped basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground oregano
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley divided
- 12 lasagna noodles regular or no cook
- 16 ounces ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Pinch of nutmeg
- ¾ pound freshly grated mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Cook sausage, ground beef, onion, and garlic in large dutch oven over medium heat until browned. Drain excess grease.
- Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water.
- Add sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley.
- Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Don't bother cooking regular noodles. Just soak them in really hot tap water in the baking dish for 20-30 minutes before using rather than dirty another pot. They won't be fully cooked, but soft and will finish cooking in the oven. (Obviously you can cook them according to package directions if you prefer, though). No-cook noodles don't need to be cooked or soaked at all.
- Combine the ricotta cheese, egg, salt, nutmeg, and remaining parsley in a medium bowl.
- Spread 1 ½ cups of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Lay lasagna noodles in a single layer over the sauce. Dollop half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles and spread in a thin, even layer. Sprinkle with ⅓ of the mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup of the parmesan cheese. Spread with another 1 ½ cups of the sauce.
- Repeat with another layer of noodles, the remaining ricotta mixture, half of the remaining mozzarella cheese, and another ¼ cup of the parmesan. Top with another 1 ½ cups of sauce.
- Top with a third, final layer of lasagna noodles, then cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
- Cover with foil then bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 25 minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to brown on top.
- Remove from the oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
Recipe only slightly adapted from All Recipes.