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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. 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 3 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 cook or soak them.

Homemade meat sauce. A quick and easy, 20-minute meat sauce loaded with ground beef and Italian sausage.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Recipe FAQs
  6. The Best Make Ahead Lasagna Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for the best make ahead lasagna.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Ground meat: I prefer 1 pound each of ground beef and Italian sausage (2 pounds total). Or use just ground beef, just ground Italian sausage, or choose another ground meat entirely (such as ground turkey).
  • 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.

To make the meat sauce:

  1. 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.
Ground beef and onion cooked in a saucepan.
  1. 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.
Italian meat sauce in a saucepan.

To make the cheese filling:

  1. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese with egg, parsley, and salt. Chill until the sauce is finished.
Ricotta cheese mixture for lasagna.

To assemble and bake the lasagna:

  1. 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).
The best make ahead lasagna being assembled in a white baking dish.
  1. 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.
The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish.
  1. 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.
The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish before being baked.
  1. 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.
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, enough for 12 servings.
  • Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Make ahead: Make this recipe up to 3 days before you need it and keep it in the refrigerator.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Disposable aluminum pans: I’ve made this in aluminum pans without a problem. They’re just fine!
  • 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.
The best make ahead lasagna in a white baking dish with one piece removed.

Recipe FAQs

Do I have to use no-boil noodles?

No-boil noodles shred on the end of your fork in the most unappetizing way, so this recipe uses traditional dry lasagna noodles that soften in the source in a matter of hours. It takes a little bit of planning, but it’s fool-proof!

Italian Feast

Introducing: My favorite Italian feast! Featuring spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, Caesar salad, bruschetta, an antipasto platter, and pizzelle, this menu will have your grandma pronouncing it “Eye-talian” in no time. I know mine always…

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Round out your menu

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.
4.95 from 335 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:

  • 1 pound ground beef (see note 1)
  • 1 pound ground Italian sausage
  • 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 and bake 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.
  • 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: I prefer 1 pound each of ground beef and Italian sausage (2 pounds total). Or use just ground beef, just ground Italian sausage, or choose another ground meat entirely (such as ground turkey).
  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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Iā€™m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

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Meggan Hill

Iā€™m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

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Comments

  1. Making your recipe, sounds fantastic!! I assembled it and letting it set for 5 hours. Iā€™m going to bake then and reheat tomorrow. Any tips on it not drying out?? Should I par cook?? Thank you!!!

    1. Hi Julie, I hope you love it! I wouldn’t recommend par cooking this recipe, it might turn into a rubbery mess as well as not reaching the correct temperature. I would recommend wrapping the cooled lasagna with plastic wrap very well. When you’re ready to reheat, bake covered with foil for 25 to 30 minutes, then remove foil and continue to reheat until the middle reaches 165 degrees. Since it may only take a little longer and if you’re able to, I would recommend doing the initial baking tomorrow instead. Hope this helps! Take care! – Meggan

  2. Hi Meggan;
    Hope all is well your end.
    Was spending a lazy Sunday morning searching for a ricotta recipe to use for my cannoli shells, which lead me to your lasagne recipe, which then further lead me to peruse the Culinary Hill website for other enticingly photographed and well informed culinary recipes and ideas. I am armed with a stack of printouts ( thank you), but feel sheepish in telling you that it is well past midday and I am still in my pyjamas. lol. – Time to get cooking!
    Thank you Culinary Hill , Meggan for your expertise, I will endeavour to do your recipes justice.
    Chris Martyn.

    1. Hi Chris, what a lovely Sunday morning! Thank you so much for such a lovely message, you’re so sweet! I hope you enjoy each recipe and the rest of your Sunday was amazing. Take care! – Meggan

    1. Hi Bridget, they are the regular noodles, uncooked. No boil or oven-ready noodles will be too soggy. The uncooked noodles soften up while the lasagna is chilling in the refrigerators. Hope this helps! Take care! – Meggan

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