My favorite recipe, possibly ever. The best Make Ahead Lasagna uses three kinds of cheese, two different meats, one fantastic homemade tomato sauce, and oodles of real noodles that require absolutely zero boiling. It all adds up to an award-winning, freezer-friendly recipe I’ve been making (and loving) for over a decade. 

The best make ahead lasagna slice on a white plate.

Over the years, I tweaked this recipe to get everything exactly right. Here’s what I love about it:

You can make it ahead. The lasagna needs at least 5 hours to chill and let the sauce soften the noodles, but you can definitely make it the night before—even four days before—and bake it when you need it. Want your own freezer lasagna? Wrap it up in foil once you assemble it, no need to bake it beforehand. Then stash it away for dinner emergencies.

It uses real lasagna noodles. I’ve always hated the “oven-ready,” pre-boiled, no-boil lasagna noodles, which fall apart in the pan. Real noodles taste better, period. And with this recipe, you don’t even have to cook or soak them! It may take a leap of faith, but trust me…it will be amazing.

Homemade meat sauce. A quick and easy, 20-minute tomato sauce loaded with ground beef and Italian sausage. Need I say more?

Recipe ingredients:

Labeled ingredients for the best make ahead lasagna in various bowls.

Ingredient notes:

  • Ground meat: You can do 2 pounds of ground beef, 2 pounds of ground Italian sausage, or 1 pound of each.
  • Sugar: Even a tablespoon is too much for some people. If you don’t like the sound of sugar in your meat sauce, please leave it out. In my family, people add ¼ cup or even up to ½ cup.
  • Italian seasoning: It’s easy to make your own homemade Italian seasoning with dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram.
  • Fennel seeds: The seeds make the Italian sausage flavors pop. If you love the taste of a sweet tomato sauce, use just ground beef (no sausage), at least ¼ cup sugar, and omit the fennel seeds.
  • Ricotta cheese: Make your own ricotta with just 4 ingredients: Milk, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt.
  • Lasagna noodles. NOT “oven ready” or “no-boil noodles.” Those pre-cooked noodles will shred on your fork in the most unappetizing way, while the “real” noodles will soften in the fridge in just 5 hours

Step-by-step instructions:

Recipe revision: I updated this Lasagna recipe to make just the amount you need (2 quarts). In the past, my recipe made a quart of extra sauce. You can download a PDF of the original lasagna recipe ( <– click this link) if you are looking for that.

  1. To start, cook the beef, sausage, and onion over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or large pot. Once browned, you can drain off some of the extra fat, if you like, but you don’t have to. Then add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds.
    Ground beef and onions cooking in a silver pot with a wooden spoon.
  2. After that, add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, and fennel seeds. Then simmer the sauce for about 15 minutes, giving it a stir every once in awhile. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Then set it aside until you’re ready to build the lasagna.
    Homemade meat sauce ingredients in a silver pot with a wooden spoon.
  3. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, egg, parsley, and salt together.
    Ricotta cheese mixture.
  4. To build the lasagna, spread 2 cups sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, then layer uncooked noodles.
    Lasagna noodles being added to a white baking dish.
  5. Then spread a heaping 2/3 cup ricotta cheese, 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese (about 5 ounces) and ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese.
    The best make ahead lasagna being assembled in a white baking dish.
  6. Repeat the above layers, in that order,  two more times (2 cups meat sauce, noodles, heaping 2/3 cup ricotta cheese, 1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese) ending with the Parmesan cheese on the very top of the lasagna.
    Pre-baked best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.
  7. Finally, spray a large sheet of foil with nonstick spray and cover the baking dish. Then refrigerate at least 5 hours, overnight, or up to four days before you bake it. When the lasagna is ready, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the lasagna for 25 minutes with the foil kept on, then remove the foil and bake for another 25 minutes until hot and bubbly. You know dinner is a “go” when the internal temperature of the lasagna reaches 165 degrees.
    The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • Yield: As written, the lasagna is made in a 9” by 13” baking dish, and should be enough for 12 servings.
  • Disposable aluminum pans: I’ve made this in aluminum pans without a problem. They’re just fine!
  • Store-bought sauce: You’ll need 2 quarts of sauce for one pan of lasagna. You might want to add a little extra water if the sauce is on the thick side. This lasagna recipe uses a wet sauce so the noodles can soften in the liquid.
  • Make ahead: You can make this recipe up to four days before you need it and keep it in the refrigerator. OR, you can freeze the unbaked lasagna and save it for a rainy day. You can also freeze the lasagna after it has been in your fridge for a few days.
  • Freezing: Wrap the whole pan up in a few layers of foil and freeze. You don’t have to bake it beforehand (otherwise you’ll end up baking it twice).
  • Thawing: The day before you want to bake it, let it thaw overnight in the fridge, then bake as directed at 375 degrees, 25 minutes with foil, 25 minutes without. If you want to bake frozen lasagna right out of the freezer, add at least 30 minutes to the baking time, and check the internal temperature before serving; it should register 165 degrees.
  • Pesto. Got a jar of pesto in the pantry, or homemade pesto in the refrigerator? Spoon a layer somewhere in there; you’ll be happy you did.
  • Marinara sauce. You certainly don’t have to make a meat sauce for this recipe. Use Quick Tomato Sauce for a meat-free, delicious sauce.

The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.

More delicious Italian recipes:

 

The best make ahead lasagna slice on a white plate.

The Best Make Ahead Lasagna

The best Make Ahead Lasagna has a homemade meat sauce with beef AND sausage as well as THREE kinds of cheese. No need to boil the noodles ahead of time, either! Freezer-friendly.
4.96 from 96 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 20 mins
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins
Servings 12 servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Calories 498

Ingredients 

For the meat sauce:

  • 2 pounds ground beef (see note 1)
  • 1 medium onion chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar or to taste (see note 2)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (see note 3)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (see note 4)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the cheese filling:

  • 1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese (see note 5)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For assembly:

  • 1 box lasagna noodles NOT no-boil (see note 6)
  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese shredded
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • Minced fresh parsley for garnish

Instructions 

To make the meat sauce:

  • In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add beef, sausage, and onion and cook until mostly browned, about 5 minutes. Drain if desired. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, basil, Italian seasoning, and fennel seeds. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper). You should have about 2 quarts of sauce.

To make the cheese filling:

  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, parsley, and salt. Chill until the sauce is finished.

To assemble the lasagna:

  • In the bottom of a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish, spread 2 cups meat sauce. Arrange a single layer of uncooked noodles over the meat sauce (I do 3 full-size noodles lengthwise and then a partial noodle crosswise). Spread with a heaping 2/3 cup of the ricotta mixture. Top with about 1 ½ cups (5 ounces) of mozzarella. Sprinkle with ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese.
  • Spoon 2 cups meat sauce over the cheese. Make another layer of noodles, ricotta mixture (heaping 2/3 cup), mozzarella (1 ½ cups) and Parmesan (⅓ cup). Repeat layers 1 more time, for a total of 3 layers.
  • Spray a large piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish. Refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight.

To bake the lasagna:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake, covered with foil, for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake an until hot and bubbly, about 25 minutes longer. Cool 5 minutes, then garnish with parsley before serving if desired.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Ground meat: You can do 2 pounds of ground beef, 2 pounds of ground Italian sausage, or 1 pound of each.
  2. Sugar: Even a tablespoon is too much for some people. If you don't like the sound of sugar in your meat sauce, please leave it out. In my family, people add ¼ cup or even up to ½ cup.
  3. Italian seasoning: It's easy to make your own homemade Italian seasoning with dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and marjoram.
  4. Fennel seeds: The seeds make the Italian sausage flavors pop. If you love the taste of a sweet tomato sauce, use just ground beef (no sausage), at least ¼ cup sugar, and omit the fennel seeds.
  5. Ricotta cheese: Make your own ricotta with just 4 ingredients: Milk, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt.
  6. Lasagna noodles. NOT “oven ready” or “no-boil noodles." Those pre-cooked noodles will shred on your fork in the most unappetizing way, while the "real" noodles will soften in the fridge in just 5 hours.
  7. Yield: As written, the lasagna is made in a 9” by 13” baking dish, and should be enough for 12 servings.
  8. Disposable aluminum pans: I've made this in aluminum pans without a problem. They're just fine!
  9. Store-bought sauce: You’ll need 2 quarts of sauce for one pan of lasagna. You might want to add a little extra water if the sauce is on the thick side. This lasagna recipe uses a wet sauce so the noodles can soften in the liquid.
  10. Make ahead: You can make this recipe up to four days before you need it and keep it in the refrigerator. OR, you can freeze the unbaked lasagna and save it for a rainy day. You can also freeze the lasagna after it has been in your fridge for a few days.
  11. Freezing: Wrap the whole pan up in a few layers of foil and freeze. You don’t have to bake it beforehand (otherwise you’ll end up baking it twice).
  12. Thawing: The day before you want to bake it, let it thaw overnight in the fridge, then bake as directed at 375 degrees, 25 minutes with foil, 25 minutes without. If you want to bake frozen lasagna right out of the freezer, add at least 30 minutes to the baking time, and check the internal temperature before serving; it should register 165 degrees.
  13. Pesto. Got a jar of pesto in the pantry, or homemade pesto in the refrigerator? Spoon a layer somewhere in there; you'll be happy you did.
  14. Marinara sauce. You certainly don't have to make a meat sauce for this recipe. Use Quick Tomato Sauce for a meat-free, delicious sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 498kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 30gFat: 27gSaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 105mgSodium: 528mgPotassium: 351mgFiber: 2gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 343IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 325mgIron: 3mg
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Comments

    1. Hi Eva, the sauce has extra liquid and it softens the noodles. I swear it works as long as you make the sauce as instructed. It’s crazy, but it works!

  1. From a fully refrigerated state it only needs to cook for a total of 50 minutes?  Is that long enough for cooking since there’s an egg in the recipe? 

    1. Hi Beth, it just needs to get to 165 degrees. You cover it for the first 25 minutes so I think that helps it get it hot, fast. And then remove the foil to promote browning. But yes, if your oven is running at the right temperature (375 degrees if you set it at that temp) it will be hot and bubbly by then. I’ve never had an issue. Just make sure it hits 165 degrees!

  2. This recipe looks delicious! I have to feed a large family party 30+ adults. There are a few vegetarians in the mix so was hoping to make this dish along with another that doesn’t have meat. Do you think your technique to not cook the lasagna noodles would work in other recipes too? Or do you have recipes that are vegetarian but similar to this one? Thanks!

    1. Hi Natasha! The technique with the noodles will work provided you have a sauce with enough liquid in it, so YES! The meat has nothing to do with it. But, if you used a white sauce instead of a red one, I’m not sure what effect that would have. But let’s say you were going to use spinach and mushrooms, or squash and peppers, or anything else like that in the sauce instead of meat. Yes. You’ll have no issues. I don’t have any such recipes posted, but I think you could probably find a good vegetarian recipe you like online and just try to match it up to mine to make sure it makes sense. I hope that helps!

  3. I just made the meat sauce today and our house smells delicious.  I’m planning on making the lasagna Sunday afternoon to have for dinner on Monday night.  Do you think it’s fine for the lasagna to site already-made in the fridge for 24 hours?  I wasn’t sure if the overnight/8-hr suggestion was the ideal timeframe?  Part of me figures by overnight you meant for dinner the next night but perhaps you meant earlier in the day (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  Sorry if that’s a stupid question….

    Thanks!5 stars

    1. Hi Amanda! Not a stupid question at all. 24 hours in the fridge is fine! I’ve done that myself. The 8 hours is basically the minimum I recommend to make sure your noodles soften, the “overnight” is more of a convenience thing. 24 hours is just fine. The noodles have max amount of liquid they will absorb. Honestly I think even 48 hours is fine. Thanks for checking! I hope you love it.

  4. Holy YUM! And I just gotta give a heck yes to these normal-and-still-don’t-have-to-boil noodles. This recipe is just everything!

  5. Question! I’ve never made a make-ahead lasagne – do you cook it fully first and then freeze it? or do you assemble it, freeze it and then bake it?

    1. Hi Erin! The way this one works is, you only cook the sauce but everything else is cold. Noodles are uncooked. You assemble it, and then you could either refrigerate it overnight and bake it the next day, or stick it in the freezer, thaw it overnight, and bake it the next day. I hope that helps! If you have more questions just let me know. Thank you so much!

    2. Meggan, when you say “thaw overnight,” do you mean in the fridge or out of the fridge? Made this tonight and need it for Wed night so I just put it in the freezer… Thanks! Can’t wait to try it!

    3. Hi Erica! Thank you for the question and sorry that wasn’t clear. You should thaw in the fridge (you should always thaw things in the fridge for food safety, no matter what it is, rather than just at room temperature). In your case, I’d pull it out of the freezer on Tuesday night and put it in the fridge so it will have 24 hours before you bake it Wednesday night. You should be in good shape! Just make sure you bake it to 165 degrees. You’ll be all set. Thank you Erica!

  6. Megan!  This looks so awesome!  I love a good lasagna and sadly have also had bad luck with those gross no boil ones.  And yes I ALSO talk to people in the aisles so we are both weirdos.  I bet this freezes wonderfully too huh!

  7. You can’t beat a really good lasagna. Love your tips – thank you, Meggan!

    I’d never thought of the shredding noodles thing, but now you mention it… ;-)

    I’m a big fan of mixing beef with sausage too – pack in that flavour!5 stars

  8. Thank you so much for leaving a comment. :) The day I made yours, I also made one for myself. I’m glad your family enjoyed it as much as mine did!

    1. I always use uncooked regular noodles. Just use tad more sauce and increase baking time. Haven’t cooked noodles in Years. Will try your make ahead idea when pressed for time day of dinner though!5 stars