There is no better meal to feed a crowd than lasagna. Tender sheets of pasta get layered with endless amounts of sauce and cheese for a dish that’s pure comfort. Flavor combinations may come and go, but no matter your ingredient lineup, there is one key element to mastering this dish. “The hallmark of a perfect lasagne is slightly crunchy edges and a warm gooey center,” Mark Ladner, executive chef of Del Posto in NYC, tells us. (That’s right. He said lasagne. The word lasagna is technically the singular term for one noodle sheet, while the finished product is called lasagne. But, for consistency’s sake, we’re going with the former. Sorry, Nonna!)
Our version layers fresh pasta sheets with sausage ragù and pesto ricotta for a dish that's rich and bright—and might even replace your grandmother’s recipe (we won’t tell). In addition to chef Ladner, we tap Bruce Kalman, pasta guru and chef/owner of Pasadena’s Union Restaurant, for his tip and tricks for making the perfect lasagna.
So you’ve made your pasta dough and let it rest overnight in the fridge (crucial for allowing the dough to hydrate and the gluten to relax), now it's time to roll out. “The dough should be well laminated, meaning sheeted and trifolded about 14 times,” Kalman explains. By taking the time to go through this process, you get a smooth dough that can easily be rolled out.
As for the thickness, the two chefs differ in technique. Kalman prefers “to make a dough that has some chew to it, because the pasta will get lost in the lasagne pretty easily if not.” Ladner, on the other hand, serves up a whopping 100-layer lasagna at Del Posto, so naturally he rolls his sheets much thinner, to one millimeter thick. Since we’re working with a fraction of those layers, we go with ⅙ inch thick.
(Some) Assembly Required
There is indeed an art to assembling a lasagna. Once you have all your components (pro tip: Making your dough sheets one day ahead helps ensure the flavors meld and the dough rests), it’s construction time. Here are Kalman’s three steps to lasagna perfection.
① Always have sauce on the bottom, so the lasagna does not burn.
② Press down between every layer as you build, so the lasagna is firm and dense.
③ Allow the lasagna to cool completely, then cut into individual portions and reheat for a twice-baked effect.
Ladner is also a proponent of cooling his lasagna completely and will even chill it overnight. If you just can’t wait (hey, we don’t blame you), feel free to let your lasagna rest slightly before slicing and serving straight from the baking dish. In a real time pinch? Instead of making the pasta by hand, use store-bought lasagna sheets (just remember to boil them first).
Check out the handy slideshow below for a step-by-step guide to pasta perfection, then watch Kalman give us a pasta-making demo in this video.
Sausage and Ricotta Lasagna
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes, plus cooling and overnight chilling time
Total Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, plus cooling and overnight chilling time
For the Dough:
3¾ cups (20 ounces) 00 flour, plus more for dusting
6 eggs, plus 6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Sausage Ragù:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (4 links) hot Italian sausage, casings removed
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine
Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 thyme sprig
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the Pesto Ricotta:
4 cups (2 pounds) whole-milk ricotta
1 cup basil pesto
½ cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, for greasing
2 pounds mozzarella, cut into ¼-inch slices
1. Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine all the dough ingredients and mix until a dough comes together, then transfer to a clean work surface and knead until a smooth dough forms, 3 to 5 minutes. Divide into 2 pieces and shape each into a disk. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator overnight.
2. Meanwhile, make the ragù: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, using a wooden spoon to break up the sausage, until lightly caramelized, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and onions, and cook until the onions are translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Pour in the wine and stir, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the tomatoes, oregano and thyme, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes have broken down and the liquid has thickened, 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight.
4. Make the pesto ricotta: In a large bowl, whisk together all the ricotta ingredients until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container and let refrigerate overnight.
5. The next day, assemble the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cut each disk of dough in half. With plenty of flour on hand for dusting, use a rolling pin and a pasta roller to roll the pasta dough out into ⅙-inch-thick sheets. Cut each sheet into 10-inch pieces, then set aside on a floured baking sheet layered with parchment paper.
6. In the baking dish, spread a quarter of the ragù on the bottom. Place 3 to 4 sheets of pasta dough across the bottom, overlapping slightly to cover. Spread a third of the pesto ricotta over the sheets and layer with a quarter of the sliced mozzarella, then arrange more pasta sheets to cover. Repeat the process of layering, alternating the ragù and the ricotta, 4 more times, for a total of 6 layers of pasta. Top the final layer of pasta with the remaining quarter of the ragù and the mozzarella slices.
7. Cover the lasagna with greased foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake covered for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling, 30 minutes more. Let cool for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.