Italian lasagna with a homemade bolognese sauce is a special treat for our family. I was SO lucky to marry into a family with an Italian heritage. “Boompa,” as we called him, was 100% Italian and my husband is quarter Italian, so I have learned a lot. This Italian lasagna recipe combines a homemade Italian bolognese sauce with cream cheese, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and Mozzarella cheese. It is fairly simple to make (as far as lasagna goes) and is SO rich and creamy! I can’t wait to share my Italian lasagna recipe with you!
The first secret to a really good Italian Lasagna is the red bolognese sauce!
My mother-in-law spent years perfecting the perfect Italian spaghetti sauce recipe, using ingredients that you would typically have at home. The sauce uses canned diced tomatoes. She prefers to use the Italian-style tomatoes, but I didn’t have any so had to go with the petite diced tomatoes and it was still AMAZING!!! I’ve also used my fresh garden tomatoes, cored and crushed in my Vitamix, and I must say, it is even tastier with fresh garden tomatoes. I look forward to summer so I can use them again! I’ve also used frozen crushed fresh garden tomatoes. I take out the frozen package, stored in a freezer bag, cut it down the side and just dump the frozen tomatoes into the pot. This makes a fresh Italian spaghetti sauce that is to die for. That said, we don’t always have the time or availability to use fresh garden tomatoes, and so this recipe is the next best thing.
In addition to the diced tomatoes, there is tomato sauce, tomato paste, onion and ground beef (for another great beef recipe and how I simplify using ground beef, click here). Traditionally, sausage is used, but it is more fatty and we often don’t have ground sausage on hand. So, to help our hamburger meat taste like sausage, we add fennel. This is a spice where a little bit goes a LONG way. I’m not a huge fennel fan, but I really like it in this Italian Lasagna and feel like it makes all the difference. To finish off the sauce, olive oil is added as well as Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, and bay leaves. If you have fresh basil, oregano, and marjoram in your garden, this is far superior to the Italian seasoning and can be used in place of it. The last ingredient is fresh garlic, minced. I use a garlic press and have tried a variety of different garlic types. Two that I LOVE are the Spanish Roja garlic (really spicy and gives a nice kick to your meals – LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this garlic) and the Music garlic (imported from Italy). I have grown both in my garden and have used both. I like to use the Music garlic in my Italian lasagna for the flavor but also because it comes from Italy and I somehow feel there is a little bit of authenticity in my sauce when I use it. It has a milder flavor than the Spanish Roja garlic. Obviously, you can use whatever garlic you have on hand when you make it. To make the sauce, brown the ground beef, add the diced onion and cook until it is transparent. Then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer on low until ready to use. (The longer, the better – around 30 minutes or so).
The next secret to an amazing Italian Lasagna is combining several different cheeses.
In this lasagna recipe, I used freshly grated Parmesan cheese, Mozzarella cheese, cream cheese, and Ricotta cheese. My mother-in-law often leaves the ricotta cheese out and simply uses cream cheese due to convenience of what she usually has on hand, which tastes amazing. It is a definite option and is REALLY good. I personally love ricotta cheese as well and like to use both. I’ve also used cottage cheese in the past (another option if you don’t have ricotta on hand) which tastes great but provides a different texture. For my cheeses, I like to layer them. I take an egg and beat it with the cream cheese and ricotta cheese. This gives it a more liquid texture and makes it easier to spread. I also like to add some parsley to my cream cheese mixture. The other cheeses I sprinkle on in layers.
The last secret to a good Italian Lasagna is cooking the noodles al dente.
There are two ways to cook your lasagna noodles. One is to follow the package directions and boil them the full amount of time. The other is to salt your water, bring it to a boil, put in the noodles, boil them for one minute, and then turn off the heat and cover your noodles. Be sure to give them a quick stir first so they don’t stick. You can also add a little bit of olive oil to your water for the same purpose. Leave the noodles covered while you are preparing the other ingredients. They should remain covered for about 17 minutes. This cooks them just enough that they will not be soggy when you cook your lasagna. The biggest trick is to make sure that they don’t stick together while cooking, so be sure to separate them. You can also use the “no bake” lasagna noodles dry if you are short on time but I don’t like the texture as much.
To assemble my lasagna, I like to place about a cup or so of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan. I then place the cooked noodles in a layer on top of the sauce. I usually strip off some of the water from the noodles using my fingers and running them down the noodle. I then spoon on a layer of the cream cheese/ricotta cheese mixture. On top of that, I sprinkle Parmesan cheese. I then place about a cup or so of the Italian bolognese sauce. I like to make sure I have enough sauce for my lasagna. The amount you use is up to you! On top of the sauce, I generously sprinkle some shredded mozzarella cheese. I then place another layer of the noodles on top of that and continue the process until the top layer where I put a layer of noodles, sauce, and mozzarella cheese. I bake it in a 350 degree F oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until the cheese is a little golden and the sauce is bubbling. You will have extra Italian bolognese sauce at the end. There is enough for about two Italian lasagnas. If you are only making one, then you can freeze the rest of the sauce for later use or save it in the fridge for spaghetti night. You could also pressure can it for future use, but it tastes fresher if it is frozen. I have a large family, and so I made 2 lasagnas with my sauce. There were NO complaints:)
To go with your Italian Lasagna, prepare a simple green salad and serve it with some Italian bread or breadsticks, if desired.
That’s it! A feast worth every effort to make. Here is the recipe for Italian Lasagna (I will post the Italian Bolognese Spaghetti Sauce separately):
- 12 Lasagna noodles
- ½ recipe Italian Bolognese Spaghetti Sauce (see recipe below)
- 1 c Ricotta Cheese
- 1 8-oz package Cream Cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 T parsley flakes (or ¼ c fresh parsley minced)
- 1 package shredded mozzarella cheese (use as much as you want!)
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese (use as much as you want!)
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Prepare Italian Bolognese Spaghetti Sauce and bring to a low simmer.
- Bring salted water to a boil and add lasagna noodles. Boil one minute, stir, turn off burner and cover for 17 minutes.
- While noodles are cooking, prepare filling by mixing together egg, cream cheese, and ricotta cheese.
- Place 1 c of Italian Bolognese Spaghetti sauce into the bottom of a 9x13 pan.
- Layer three lasagna noodles on top of sauce.
- Take ⅓ of cream cheese mixture and spoon it on top of noodle layer.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
- Add about 1-2 c of Italian Bolognese Spaghetti sauce on top of cheese layer. (This amount depends upon how saucy you want you lasagna.)
- Sprinkle generously with Mozzarella Cheese.
- Add three more noodles and repeat layering steps above two more times.
- Place last layer of noodles on top.
- Cover with Italian bolognese spaghetti sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
- Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-40 minutes or until the cheese is lightly brown and the lasagna is bubbling at the edges. You can cover the lasagna with aluminum foil for the first 25 minutes if desired.
- Remove from oven.
- Let set for about 10 minutes and then serve warm.
- 1½ lb. ground beef
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4-6 cloves garlic
- ¼ c olive oil
- 3 cans (15½ oz) Italian style diced tomatoes
- 3 cans (15½ oz) tomato sauce
- 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
- 1 tsp. fennel seed
- 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 bay leaves
- Brown beef and drain well.
- Add olive oil, onions, and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
- Stir in fennel seed and Italian Seasoning (is using fresh basil, marjoram, and oregano, add it at the end).
- Add all tomatoes and bay leaves.
- Add salt and pepper, to taste.
- Simmer on low 30 minutes or longer, stirring occasionally.
- Use in Italian Lasagna or over spaghetti/pasta.
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