When I’m hosting a dinner — particularly a family dinner — or I have to bring something to a potluck, lasagna is one of my go-to recipes. Everyone loves lasagna, vegetarian versions are still satisfying to meat-eaters, and whenever you make it, you have to make a ton.
But I never make lasagna when it’s just the two of us, even though I love it too. Why not? Even if there are a lot of leftovers, lasagna freezes beautifully and reheats well for lunches, so it wouldn’t go to waste. I shouldn’t just wait for a special occasion to make it.
Lasagna seems complicated to make, because there are so many steps to prepare all the components, generally requiring a Sunday afternoon to assemble. But like the best classic recipes, at its heart, lasagna is very simple: sauce, noodles, filling and cheese. Because it is so simple, lasagna lends itself well to interpretation and improvisation. As long as you stay true to the basic components, lasagna can be whatever you want it to be.
Mushroom Lasagna with Bechamel Sauce
Here are the steps to making any lasagna. What you put in it is up to you. This recipe will serve 6-8.
I like a two-layer lasagna, which requires 9 lasagna noodles for the base, the middle and the top (3 noodles each). I have not had a lot of luck with the no-boil noodles. Instead, I par-boil the traditional noodles in heavily salted water, stirring occasionally, until they are a minute or two shy of being al dente. They will finish cooking in the sauce while baking.
I usually go ahead and cook 12 noodles even though I don’t need all of them, for two reasons: (1) some noodles may get torn or stick together, so it’s good to have extras; and (2) lasagna noodles come 24 to a box.
Note: The amounts given in the remainder of the recipe are for two layers. If you prefer three layers, adjust the amounts up accordingly.
Typically, lasagne can be made with either a tomato sauce or a bechamel (white) sauce (recipe follows at the end of this post). You will need about 3 cups of sauce for a two-layer lasagne.
The traditional cheeses for lasagna are mozzarella and Parmesan. I’ve also had good luck using fontina in place of the mozzarella. You’ll need about 1½ cups shredded cheese, plus extra Parmesan for the top.
You don’t have to stop at two cheeses either. Any soft or shredded cheese would make a welcome addition. I’ve enjoyed mixing in chevre and gorgonzola, for example.
Almost anything goes when it comes to lasagna filling. Browned meat, meatballs and sausage are all traditional favorites. I prefer vegetable lasagna myself. In that case, the only rule is to choose vegetables that don’t have to cook in water, because the extra liquid will make the lasagna too runny. Altogether, you will need 4 cups filling.
Vegetables should be pre-cooked before assembling the lasagna. I generally choose a mixture of vegetables that can all be cooked together, saving on prep time. Some suggestions include:
- Roasted asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant and/or portobellos
- Sauteed artichoke hearts, garlic, mushrooms, onion, peppers, spinach, summer squash and/or zucchini
For the lasagna pictured above, I broke my own rule. I combined roasted portobellos with sauteed onion, garlic and very finely chopped button mushrooms. I used bechamel sauce and fontina cheese to produce a rich and meaty-tasting Mushroom Lasagna. It was fabulous, if I do say so myself.
Assembling the Lasagna
Once you have all of your components ready, assemble the lasagna in a 9 X 13 baking pan:
- Start with a thin layer of sauce
- Add a layer of 3 noodles
- Layer on about 2 cups filling
- Top with about 1 cup sauce
- Sprinkle over about ½ cup cheese
- Repeat the layers, starting with the noodles
- Top with the remaining sauce and cheese, plus some extra Parmesan
- Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until bubbling
- Remove the foil, raise the heat to 500 degrees and bake until browned, about 6-8 minutes
- Garnish with minced basil or parsley
Notes: Unbaked lasagnas freeze very well.
Bechamel Sauce for Lasagna and Many Other Things
Yields: 3 cups
What you need:
- 6 tbsp. butter
- 6 tbsp. flour
- 3 cups milk
- nutmeg and white pepper to taste
- Melt the butter over low heat
- Whisk in the flour until well combined
- Whisk in the milk
- Raise the heat to medium and whisk until the sauce thickens
- Season to taste