I’ve made a fair amount of homemade pastas over the years. It’s actually one of my favorite thing to make in the kitchen (homemade spinach pasta for example). For some reason though, I’ve never gotten around to making lasagna from scratch which is totally silly since it’s technically the easiest pasta to make!
Before I get into the nitty-gritty on lasagna making, let’s talk about why I don’t love lasagna. While most dried pastas are pretty good, I find that dried lasagna noodles are a bit too pasta-y. If that makes sense. They tend to be really thick and you end up with these big masses of carbs.
This isn’t to say that I don’t like this kind of lasagna. It’s totally fine. But I knew before I even got started that homemade would have an edge just because I knew I could make the noodles super-thin which would lead to lots of layers.
Is it more work? Of course, but it’s a perfect dish for a Sunday dinner with the family and one that will leave plenty of leftovers for the week.
1) To make dough, mix salt and flour then make a well out of the flour on a clean counter. Add eggs to well and us a fork to lightly beat eggs. Continue doing this until the flour slowly gets incorporated with the eggs. Eventually they should come together in a dough. It's okay of the eggs break out of the well. Just do your best.
2) Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it's smooth and not sticky at all. If it's sticky at any point, knead it more flour.
3) Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for at least an hour.
4) For sauce, add butter to a large pan over medium-low heat. Once melted add shallots, pepper flakes, and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 3-5 minutes. Add red wine, followed by tomatoes and other spices.
5) Simmer sauce on low for 20-30 minutes until sauce is fairly thick.
6) For spinach/ricotta mixture, blanch spinach in boiling salted water for 30 seconds. Remove spinach to a few paper towels and once cool enough to handle, wring out spinach to get out as much moisture as possible.
7) Chop spinach and add to other filling ingredients in a bowl. Stir well to combine.
8) To make noodles, cut pasta dough into at least 4ths, but 6ths is good for beginners. Slowly work the dough through the pasta maker on the widest setting, kneading it and add more flour if you need to. Do this until the dough is smooth and the width of the roller.
9) Crank the dial down one number at a time until the pasta roller is at 8 or 9. 9 is very thin, but delicious.
10) Once all your noodles are done, cut them into large rectangles. Add them to salted boiling water for 30 seconds until they float. Then add them to an ice batch drizzled with a good amount of olive oil. (You'll have to do this in batches)
11) Remove the noodles from the ice batch and let them dry on a few paper towels. You can stack them up, they shouldn't really stick to each other. If they stick a bit, it isn't a big deal.
12) Make lasagna in a large deep dish, layering sauce, noodles, filling, and fresh mozzarella until you fill the dish. You should be able to get 7-10 layers out of the ingredients. Be sure to leave enough mozzarella to top the dish. It's okay to have some layers that are just sauce also.
13) Bake dish covered in foil for 30 minutes and then uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Lasagna should be bubbling and crispy golden browned on the edges.
14) Let cool for a few minutes before serving!
Making the pasta
Before anyone notices, I was making slightly more pasta than the recipe above because I wasn’t sure how many noodles I would need. I had way more than I needed though so you can just go with the recipe I posted.
Pasta always starts the same way. Mix a pinch of salt into a good amount of flour (I don’t really even measure anymore). Then make a big well in the flour and add all your eggs.
Use a fork to start mixing the flour into the eggs. One of two things will happen at this point:
A) You’ll work too quickly, break the wall of the flour and the eggs will spill out all over your counter. If this happens, don’t fret. Just do your best to mix the eggs in with the flour until it forms a sturdy enough dough so that you can knead it.
B) You’ll have way more patience than me and be able to perfectly incorporate the flour into the eggs until it forms a dough that you can then knead.
I got pretty close this time.
But eventually my eggs escaped (sorry no photo because I was controlling escaped egg you see). But like I said, just keep mixing and eventually you’ll get a solid ball of dough.
Pasta dough is a lot stiffer than bread dough. It’s pretty hard to work with until it softens up a bit. But knead it you must. You want to knead it for probably 10 minutes until it’s smooth. If at any point the dough is sticky, knead in a bit more flour. You should have plenty all over your counter!
Eventually you’ll end up with a beautiful ball of pasta dough in the middle of a big mess of flour.
Wrap this guy in plastic wrap very tightly and let it relax at room temperature for about an hour while you work on the sauce and filling.
I didn’t do anything fancy this time around with the sauce or the filling really. They are both simple, but totally delicious.
If you can’t find jarred strained tomatoes, you can use any tomato sauce. I do like the difference in texture between the crushed tomatoes and the sauce though so try to add some of both.
To start the sauce, just melt the butter in a large pot. Then add the diced shallot, garlic, and red pepper flakes.
Once this has cooked for a few minutes over low heat, add a few glugs of wine. I never measure this honestly, but I’d guess I add about 1/2 a cup.
Let that cook for a few seconds, then add all the tomatoes and spices. Bring the sauce to a simmer and simmer it for about 20-30 minutes to bring all the flavors together.
Then turn off the heat and let it cool a bit before making the lasagna.
The only tricky part about this filling is preparing the spinach. You could use baby spinach I guess, but the adult spinach is usually cheaper and you can’t tell the difference in the finished version.
So if you’re using the adult stuff, clean it off well and break off the long stems. You just want the leaves. Then dunk all the spinach in boiling salted water for about 30 seconds until it just starts to wilt. Then remove it all from the water and lay it out on a few paper towels.
Let it cool for a minute or two and then press out as much water as possible. Really press it out.
You’ll be left with what looks like a small amount of spinach but once you mix it up it’ll be plenty.
Once your spinach is as dry as possible, chop it up roughly and add it to the other filling ingredients.
Rolling and Cooking Pasta
Your pasta dough should be nice and relaxed now. Take it out of the plastic wrap and cut it into manageable pieces. I find that sixths is perfect. You could go with fourths if you’re feeling ambitious but be ready for some really long pasta pieces.
Take one of these and work it through the pasta machine a few times. Add flour if it sticks at all. Use the machine to knead it on the widest setting. When the dough is a fairly even width, start cranking the pasta roller to thinner settings, one number at a time.
I finished my pasta on the absolute thinnest setting, 9, but you could stop at 8 if you want a slightly thicker pasta.
I could seriously see through mine it was so thin.
I actually thought about not cooking my pasta at all because it was so thin, but decided to do it.
I’ve tried a few different methods of cooking lasagna noodles to make sure they don’t stick, but the best method I’ve found is one I read on a 101 Cookbooks recipe.
Start with very salted water and add a few noodles (you can add more as you get the hang of it). After about 30 seconds, remove the noodles with some tongs and add them to a bowl of ice water drizzled with olive oil. This will cool them off, stopping the cooking, and the oil will make sure they don’t stick together.
Once your noodles are cool, you can lay them out on a few paper towels and they shouldn’t really stick together. If they stick a bit, it’s fine. You should have more than enough noodles to finish the dish even if a few get sacrificed.
When all your noodles are cooked, you can finally…
Make some lasagna!
I’m not going to tell you an exact method on how to do this except that I always start with a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of my pan. Then basically just layer noodles, sauce, filling, and pieces of fresh mozzarella all the way up.
I did only one layer of mozzarella in the lasagna and saved the rest for the top.
You should be able to get a lot of layers since the noodles are so thin. I think I got about 7 or 8 layers in my version. Some I just did with sauce.
It’s a beautiful thing though when it’s finished.
Bake this guy at 350 degrees, covered with foil, for about 30 minutes. Then uncover it and bake for another 30 minutes to get the top browned nicely.
This is well worth your time. Trust me.
See all those layers of crispy noodles around the edges? Those are the best part by far and really hard to get with thick noodles.
Some will think that this is too much work and obviously you can use the same filling and sauce recipes with store bought noodles if you’re short on time. The homemade pasta though is an added touch that I think kicks this standard dish up a notch.