Name a more comforting food than lasagna…go on, I’ll give you a minute. That rich meaty Bolognese sauce, creamy bechamel, and all that wonderful cheese! Beef lasagna is my ultimate comfort food, and without a doubt, one of my favourite all-time foods. (And in case you’re wondering, this is technically lasagne alla Bolognese.)
Before we really get started with this one, I want to address the scariest part of this recipe – the cooking time. 5 hours 30 minutes…total recipe time is approximately 6 hours. No, that’s not a typo. That’s how long it takes to cook a traditional lasagna recipe from scratch. And trust me, you will feel a special kind of accomplishment for cooking this the old fashioned way.
However, I realise that not everyone has that kind of time (…I certainly don’t!) so I’ve addressed all the ways you can speed up the process by substituting or using store-bought components, turning this into something that can be made in as little as 1 hour and 15 minutes. (The things I do for you, bestie.)
For that reason, this is a bit of a long read! Grab a cup of espresso, and put on your favourite Italian playlist.
Everything you need to know about lasagna
Gosh, I love lasagna – pasta, Bolognese, cheese…ohmygawd, the cheese!!! *ahem* Here are answers to some questions you may have about this classic recipe.
Lasagna vs lasagne
In Italian, lasagna refers to ‘one lasagna noodle’ (that is the long, flat, pasta we use to may lasagnas) while lasagne refers to multiple lasagna noodles or a completed lasagna dish. In English, we don’t necessarily carry over this meaning as we pluralise the lasagna by adding an ‘s’ at the end. (You’ll still see lasagna spelled with an ‘e’ in many European countries.)
What is lasagne al forno
Lasagne al forno is the proper Italian name for a completed ‘standard’ lasagna dish (we mostly just call it ‘lasagna’ in North America) that’s made by layering lasagna noodles, ricotta, mozzarella and some sauce, in contrast to the lasagne alla Bolognese, which we’re making today. So…
What is lasagne alla Bolognese
Lasagne alla Bolognese is a version that layers the noodles with a meaty sauce, béchamel, and cheese (usually mozzarella).
What is a soffritto
Soffrito means ‘fried slowly’ or ‘under-fried’ in Italian. It is an aromatic flavour-base made by cooking chopped onions, celery, and carrots. The concoction is the foundation of many types of foods. You may hear the word battuto used for the same mixture – this usually refers to the ingredients in their uncooked state.
Soffritto vs sofrito
If you’re worried about the difference between “soffritto” and “sofrito” – don’t be. They are both essentially the same thing. The reason for the difference in spelling is language – “sofrito” is Spanish, while “soffritto” is Italian – both spellings are used, the Spanish spelling is usually favoured in North America. I’ve opted to use the Italian spelling as this is an Italian recipe post.
What is tomato passata
Tomato passata is a thick sauce made from strained tomatoes – it is essentially an uncooked tomato puree, and is available in most large supermarkets.
Apple cider vinegar seems to be the one ingredient that trips everyone up – mostly because it’s not as much a pantry staple as some other ingredients. Here is a basic substitution guide in case you want to switch it out.
The apple cider vinegar can be swapped with an equal amount of white wine. This is a very popular option.
An equal amount of broth can be used instead of apple cider vinegar.
White wine vinegar
For an alcohol-free option, use 50% the amount of apple cider vinegar, and 50% water.
Plain ol’ water
If using good ol’ fashioned water to replace apple cider vinegar, use 75% the amount. It won’t add much to the overall flavour, but it will make sure your dish doesn’t dry out.
Using store-bought sauces
You’re probably wondering whether you can cut out a lot of the cook time (and honestly a little headache) by using your favourite store-bought sauce. Well, yes. You can. But you’ll feel less Italian. And if you happen to have an Italian nonna, she will be very disappointed in you.
Note: Nonna is the Italian word for grandmother.
Bolognese / Ragu
Using a good store-bought ragu or meat sauce is absolutely do-able – it certainly won’t taste as good as making your own from scratch, but it will save you quite bit of time. Personally, I like to make my own meat sauce, and use it to cook a number of things over the next week or so.
If you’re using a store-bought sauce, toss in a tablespoon or so of granulated white sugar to counteract the extra concentrated build of the sauce. (You’ll need to judge this based on the flavour of the sauce you choose to go with.)
You can generally swap in store-bought bechamel without any issues. I do find it to be quite expensive for what it is, but it is a timesaver.
- Avoid super lean ground beef. You want a bit of fat to enhance the flavour of your ragu.
- Generally speaking – you want the full-fat versions of everything in this recipe. Lasagna is one of those dishes that demands to be eaten in all its indulgent glory. The one substitution I’ve seen work pretty well (in the case of lasagne al forno) is to switch out ricotta cheese with cottage cheese.
- Use a baking dish that is deep enough for your lasagna. If it’s too shallow, you’ll find that the top layer of your delicious Italian dinner may bubble out over the sides…right on to the floor of your oven.
- Make sure to put a little sauce in the bottom of your baking dish before you start layering in your lasagna sheets. This will stop the cooked sheets from sticking to the dish!
- Generously cover the top layer of your lasagna with sauce (and cheese!) before baking – this will prevent the top layer of lasagna noodle becoming too hard.
- Once baked, allow the lasagna to sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting into it.
Lasagna can be refrigerated for 3-5 days in an airtight container. If freezing, it can be frozen for up to two months – allow it to thaw before re-heating.
More Italian-inspired recipes
- Spaghetti & Meatballs
- Roasted Shrimp & Asparagus Linguine
- Creamy Mushroom Pappardelle
- Lemon Fettuccine with Garlic Shrimps
- The Almost-Perfect Grilled Cheese Sandwich
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Nothing too special here – you’ll ideally want a 9×13 inch Baking dish to cook your beef lasagna in. But even if you use a slightly different size, it should be fine…providing the sides are high enough!
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So…? Have you tried this lasagna alla Bolognese recipe yet, bestie? Did you go for the quick store-bought hacks, or did you opt for a more traditional cooking experience? Let me know in the comments below.
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Beef Lasagna / Lasagne alla Bolognese
- Total Time: 5 hours 55 minutes
- Yield: 1 lasagne alla Bolognese 1x
Beef lasagna is without a doubt one of the ultimate comfort foods. A rich meat sauce, creamy Bechemel, and plenty of cheese makes this lasagne alla Bolognese recipe really hit the spot! (It’s also great for sharing.)
Sofrito & Meat Sauce
- 1 large onion
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 small carrot
- 1 kg ground beef (not super lean)
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar (or white wine, or water)
- 650 ml tomato puree (aka. tomato passata)
- 28 oz peeled tomatoes, pureed
- 1 litre milk, full-fat (about 4 ⅕ cups)
- 50g all-purpose flour (about ⅓ cup)
- 80g unsalted butter (about ⅓ cup)
- A pinch of ground nutmeg
- A pinch of salt
- Lasagne sheets, oven-ready/cooked (approximately 15 sheets)
- ¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- ¾ cup Mozzarella
- Butter, softened or melted
Prepare the soffritto
- Using a blender or food processor, chop up the onion, celery stalks, and carrot. (You can do this by hand too.)
- Cook the chopped soffritto in a generous amount of olive oil, using a large heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. Keep the lid on, removing it only to stir the mixture on occasion. If you notice browning taking place immediately, then ensure to reduce the heat. The longer you can cook this the better, but 30 minutes is generally sufficient for a deep flavour and some colour to develop.
Prepare the meat sauce
- Add the ground beef to the soffritto, and cook over medium heat. Stir regularly to break up the meat, and allow for it to be cooked through (as well as sweat out the liquid in the beef).
- Once the liquids in the beef have been cooked off (evaporated!), add apple cider vinegar, and cook it off. Add passata, the pureed tomatoes, and season to taste.
- Cook over 4-5 hours on low heat, and the lid not fully closed.
Prepare the bechamel
- In a pot over medium-low heat, cook butter and flour together in order to form a roux.
- Whisk in the milk, stirring consistently for around 10 minutes, until the roux thickens. Season with just a touch of nutmeg and salt.
Assembling your beef lasagna
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Brush the bottom and sides of your large baking dish with butter. Cover the bottom with a thin layer of sauce. Add a little béchamel and sprinkle on around 1 ½ tablespoons of Parmigiano Reggiano. Cover with the first layer of pasta.
- Add sauce, béchamel, Parmigiano (about 1 ½ tablespoons per layer), and mozzarella (I casually dollop 6-8 tablespoons of mozzarella each layer). Cover with another layer of pasta. Repeat until the dish is almost filled to the top – around 5 layers for me (depending on your baking dish, it may be different).
- Top the lasagne with sauce, béchamel, Parmigiano and mozzarella.
- Bake for 45-60 minutes. Share with someone you care about. Watch them fall in love with you.
It’s worth pointing out that I usually work on this recipe using weight and volume, and for this recipe – I’ve left some of these measurements unconverted because I think it’ll be easier for you to work with. (For example, I think it’s easier to buy 1kg (or 2.2 lbs) of ground beef, than it is to buy approximately 4 ¾ cups of ground beef. Or, in the case of tomato passata, I’ve used 650ml instead of cups because that’s usually the size of the bottles!)
(Fun Fact: I grew up in Europe where that’s the standard way of doing things. So, most of my recipes are converted from that to the standard cup measurements you usually see on the site.)
When preparing the meat sauce
- Don’t worry about browning the beef, the main aim is to make sure it’s fully cooked through.
- I know, I know…4-5 hours of slow cooking. Snooze fest. You can reduce this time to 2 hours, but 4-5 hours is optimal. (Or you can use a good store-bought ragu…)
- When adding the pasta layers, don’t be afraid to cut up those pasta sheets to fit your baking dish.
- If your pasta edges out of the sides of the baking dish, that’s totally fine. Crispy edges are loved by all. (Okay, I’m not sure. But crispy edges are loved by Riz.)
- The number of lasagna sheets you need will depend on the shape and size of your baking dish. I used about 15 sheets, but this may vary so prepare accordingly! Note: I used a 9×13-inch Pyrex baking dish.
- I’ll be completely honest with you, bestie. When I make this recipe at home, I never actually measure out the amount of cheese or sauce used for each layer. I grab a tablespoon, put on a playlist full of traditional Italian music, and eyeball it. And I think you should do the same. If you want your lasagna to be extra cheesy, use a bit more Parmigiano Reggiano (but note that it will also bring more of that tangy flavour); if you want more cheese pulls, add a few more dollops of mozzarella; and if you want more sauciness, add more of your meat sauce (but know that it may ‘drown’ your lasagna a little in the baking stage).
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
- Category: Main Course
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: lasagna, lasagne, beef lasagna, lasagne alla bolognese
It looks delicious!
Thank you, Joan. I hope you try it!