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 (or 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 three kinds of cheese, two different meats, one fantastic homemade sauce, and oodles of real noodles that require absolutely zero boiling.
4.93 from 120 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
  • fresh parsley minced, for garnish

Instructions 

To make the meat sauce:

  • In a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add beef (or 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, enough for 12 servings.
  8. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  9. Make ahead: Make this recipe up to 3 days before you need it and keep it in the refrigerator.
  10. Freezer: Wrap the unbaked lasagna tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then bake as directed (preheat oven to 375 degrees, bake 25 minutes with foil, 25 minutes without foil). To bake the frozen lasagna straight from the freezer, bake 1 hour covered with foil and 24 minutes without the foil (the lasagna must reach 165 degrees on an internal thermometer).
  11. 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.
  12. Disposable aluminum pans: I've made this in aluminum pans without a problem. They're just fine!
  13. Pesto: Got a jar of pesto in the pantry, or homemade pesto in the refrigerator? Add a surprise layer somewhere for lots of extra flavor.

Nutrition

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

  1. I made this lasagna for Christmas and it was a HUGE hit!! Looking to just make the sauce for spaghetti. How much sauce do you think this makes? I’m serving 20 people!

  2. I’m a little confused on which noodles to use. The photos look like hard no boil sheets. I am used to fresh sheets being dough like. Do you find the necessary sheets in the pasta aisle? Do you have an example of a brand or box to look for? TY

    1. Hi Stephanie! So you use just traditional noodles that say you should boil them first but you don’t boil and just layer them in as is (they will soften over that 5 hour refrigerating time). I typically use either Barilla brand or generic. I shop at Ralph’s in California so the generic brand is Kroger. Hope this helps! -Meggan

  3. Will “fresh” lasagna noodles that come in the refrigerated section work in the same fashion as the dry regular lasagna noodles indicated in the recipe? If so, any modificatons that need to be made?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Donna, it will work if you are going to bake the lasagna right away. If fresh noodles are used and sit in the sauce overnight, they maybe become soggy. – Meggan

  4. This turned out great as a drop off pandemic meal for a couple with a newborn, for some reason it made enough for two smaller lasagnas (with some extra ricotta and mozz on hand) so we had one for ourselves too.
    I saw in notes that disposable aluminum pans are fine…. is it fine to let the lasagna sit for 2 days before baking in the aluminum pan? Planning on making ahead for my daughter’s birthday party and would rather the easy clean up of a disposable pan if possible and trying to brainstorm any time saving measures!5 stars

    1. Hi Amanda, yes! This recipe works perfectly fine in an aluminum pan two days ahead of time. It’s so nice to use them for easy clean-up. Enjoy! – Meggan

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