This authentic recipe for Italian Lasagna Alla Bolognese is so different from the traditional Italian-American style Lasagna (in the best way). Slathered in a creamy bechamel sauce, it's rich, meaty and will melt in your mouth.
There’s nothing wrong with the classic lasagna we’re used to eating, but it can’t compare to this authentic Italian lasagna alla Bolognese with creamy white bechamel sauce, also called lasagne al forno (or baked lasagna). Instead of red marinara sauce, this recipe calls for Bolognese sauce or Ragu alla Bolognese, the traditional meat sauce of the region, where it's simply called "ragu." It's rich and meaty, made with a combination of pork, veal (or beef) and pancetta in addition to mirepoix, garlic, a touch of tomato paste, white wine, and milk.
You can leave mozzarella and ricotta cheese off your grocery list for this one. Instead, you’ll be making a velvety, creamy béchamel sauce, scented lightly with nutmeg, and then topping it all with heaps of parmesan cheese.
Then we have the pasta. When visiting Bologna, every lasagna dish I saw (or enjoyed myself) had whisper thin layers of pasta with a green hue. While the spinach doesn’t add a lot of flavor to the pasta, it does add nutrients and is a tell of authentic homemade lasagna alla Bolognese.
Why This Recipe Works
- It’s an authentic Italian lasagna bolognese with béchamel sauce, just like you’d find at a trattoria in Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.
- You can make the Ragu Bolognese and pasta dough ahead of time for quicker assembly.
- You can use this Italian fresh egg pasta recipe for any style of pasta dish like fettuccini or linguine.
- Adapted from Mario Batali’s recipe.
- Veal - Ground veal is made from younger cattle, making the meat tender and flavorful, while also being low in fat. Other low-fat meats, like venison, have a gamey taste, while veal is deliciously tender. If you don't want to use veal you can replace it with lean ground beef.
- Pork - Ground pork has more fat and tastes sweeter than ground veal. The two pair well for a tender and flavorful ragu Bolognese.
- Pancetta - This is a staple in Italian cooking. Unlike bacon, which is cured and smoked, pancetta is cured without being smoked and is seasoned with black pepper. Adding a small amount of pancetta to the other meats adds a delicious pop of saltiness and flavor. If you can’t find pancetta, bacon could be used.
- Milk - Use whole milk for this recipe to add to the richness of the bechamel sauce and the ragu Bolognese.
- Spinach - Either fresh cooked spinach or frozen spinach can be used to make these classic Italian lasagna noodles. It doesn’t change the flavor but will add nutrients and a beautiful green hue to your pasta.
- Parmesan cheese - You’ll be able to tell the difference if you skimp on the quality of the parmesan. I suggest using Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano for the best authentic flavor.
- Lasagna Pan - You can make this authentic lasagna in any 9x13 inch baking dish, but pans labeled as "lasagna pans" tend to be deep dish which will avoid anything spilling out in the oven.
- Pasta Roller - You can roll out pasta dough using a rolling pin, but a pasta roller will make it a lot easier to achieve lasagna noodles with a consistent thinness. I use an old school manual hand crank pasta machine, but I have heard rave reviews for the Kitchen Aid Pasta Roller Attachment.
Step by Step Instructions
This authentic northern Italian recipe has four parts, but I promise you that the rich, meaty, and creamy finale is worth the effort! Pro tip: Make the Ragu Bolognese and pasta dough in advance for faster day-of assembly.
For the Ragu alla Bolognese
- Heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot.
- Add the carrot, onions, celery, and garlic and cook, while stirring, until translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the veal, pork, and pancetta, and turn the heat to high. Use a wooden spoon to stir and break up the meat until it’s very browned, about 20 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and stir until it deepens slightly in color, about 3 minutes.
- Add the wine, scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and cook until it's reduced by more than half.
- Add the milk and stir until it comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Make the Lasagna Noodles
- Place the spinach in a dish towel and squeeze it to remove as much liquid as possible. Puree the spinach in a food processor or finely chop by hand.
- Pour 3 ½ cups of flour into the center of a large workspace, making a well in the center.
- Add the eggs, spinach, and ½ teaspoon of olive oil to the well and gently start beating the eggs with a fork.
- Slowly begin incorporating the flour from the inner rim of the well, being careful to retain the sides of the well so that the egg mixture does not escape.
- Once most of the flour is moistened, start kneading the dough until it's elastic and slightly sticky (for about 5 to 6 minutes), adding a bit more olive oil if it's too dry. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Divide the dough into three equal portions, then roll each out as thin as possible, using a rolling pin or a pasta rolling machine. Cut the dough into wide strips.
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, and season liberally with salt. Set up an ice bath next to the stove.
- Working in batches, cook the strips of pasta for one minute, then immediately shock them in the ice bath. Drain well on towels and set aside.
Make the Creamy Bechamel Sauce
- Make a roux by melting butter in a medium saucepan, then whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook while stirring over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is light golden brown.
- Add milk to the roux 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth, then bring the mixture to a boil. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, then remove from the heat.
- Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
Assemble and Bake
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Ladle a small amount of ragu in a 9x13 inch baking dish and spread it out to cover, then top with a sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese.
- Assemble the lasagna by layering sheets of pasta, then a thin layer of béchamel sauce, then a thin layer of ragu and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Repeat until all sauce and pasta are used up, finishing with a top layer of pasta with béchamel over it. Top with lots of grated parmesan.
- Bake for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until bubbling and browned around the edges.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.
Tips for Success
- Ask your butcher to freshly grind the veal, pork and pancetta for best results.
- Make your pasta strips as long and wide as you’d like. Standard lasagna noodles are 9 to 10 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide.
- When making the bechamel sauce, stir the roux constantly to keep the flour from burning. It’s helpful to have the milk ready to pour it in before the flour burns if it starts cooking too quickly.
- Whisk the bechamel continuously until thick to prevent lumps from forming.
- You'll know the bechamel is done when it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- If making the bolognese sauce in advance, be sure to warm it up prior to layering the lasagna.
- You can omit the spinach from the pasta dough or substitute store bought fresh pasta noodles.
What to serve with Lasagna Alla Bolognese
In Italy, Lasagna and other pastas are considered "primo piatto," which translates to first plate, meaning other dishes are meant to be served after. In America, however, it is typically the main dish. For a complete meal, try balancing out its richness by serving it with a lighter side, such as:
- Garlic bread
- Kale Cesar Salad
- Shaved Asparagus Salad
- Zucchini Alla Scapece
- Spinach with butter and Parmigiano
Can I Make Lasagna Ahead of Time?
There’s no getting around it. This recipe is time intensive. But, you can make the ragu and pasta dough in advance to save a significant amount of time the day you’re making your lasagna.
The ragu can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Just let it cool, put it into an airtight container, and refrigerate until ready to use. The pasta dough can be made up to 1 day in advance. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Let sit at room temperature for about an hour before rolling.
You can also assemble the complete lasagna and freeze it before baking. Just assemble the lasagna in a freezer-safe dish, let it cool completely, then cover it in plastic wrap, then foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. When you want to make it, just remove it from the freezer, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then bake it as directed.
How to Store and Reheat Lasagna
If you have leftovers, just cover them in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat in the oven, microwave or on the stove top.
FAQS About Authentic Lasagna Bolognese
Classic lasagna, which is more common in America and southern Italy, typically uses dried pasta noodles layered with marinara sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and does not always contain meat. This version of lasagna is said to have originated in Naples. Lasagna Bolognese, which originated in Bologna, is always made with a meat sauce called ragu Bolognese, fresh egg pasta and a rich and creamy béchamel sauce instead of ricotta.
Bechamel (or “white sauce”) is one of the five Mother Sauces in classic French cuisine. It’s made from roux (a mix of butter and flour) and milk cooked until thick and creamy, then seasoned with salt and pepper and oftentimes nutmeg, which adds to the creamy flavor profile.
Sugo and Ragu are both classic Italian meat sauces, but they are quite different. Sugo directly translates to “sauce” in Italian and typically refers to a slow cooked tomato sauce with meatballs, Italian sausage and/or larger cuts of meat. Ragu, also known as Bolognese sauce, is made with ground meat, mirepoix, wine, milk, and just a small amount of tomato. Sugo is thinner in consistency and more common in Southern Italy and Sicily, while Ragu is thicker and more popular in Bologna and Northern Italy.
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