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.
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?
What you need to make the best lasagna you’ve ever had:
- Lasagna noodles. NOT “oven ready” or “no-boil noodles,” you want the real deal. Good brands are De Cecco, Barilla, or any good-quality pasta brand that your store carries. (If that’s the only kind you can find, you can use them–it’s just my personal preference.)
- Mozzarella cheese. The drier variety of mozzarella is better, which you can shred or slice. (However, nothing is stopping you from layering some fat slices of fresh mozzarella in there with the other stuff, if that’s what you want.)
- Parmesan cheese. Full disclosure: I use the stuff in the green shaker. I LIKE IT.
- Parsley. Both fresh (for the garnish) and dried (for the sauce).
- Ricotta cheese. Ever tried to make your own ricotta? It’s fun!
- Ground beef and Italian sausage. Or, you can make this with all sausage or all ground beef.
- Onion & garlic.
- Canned crushed tomatoes. Only have whole? Chop them up yourself.
- Canned tomato sauce.
- Sugar. You should adjust the amount based on your preference.
- Basil. Dried is fine.
- Italian seasoning. I love making my own homemade Italian seasoning.
- Fennel seeds. The seeds make the Italian sausage flavors pop.
How much lasagna does this recipe make?
As written, the lasagna is made in a 9” by 13” baking dish, and should be enough for 12 servings. If you’re cooking ahead for a big dinner party or making several for families in the neighborhood, then double or triple the recipe and make sure you have some extra pans.
I’ve made this in aluminum pans without a problem. They’re just fine!
How to make Overnight Lasagna:
This recipe is broken down into completely manageable steps, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Make the sauce, then make the cheese filling, then build that baby!
Making the homemade meat sauce:
Recipe revision: I recently updated this Lasagna recipe to make just the amount you need (2 quarts). In the past, my recipe made a quart of extra sauce… email me if you want the old recipe!
Sugar disclosure: 2 tablespoons feels just right to me, but you don’t have to add any at all. Some cooks in my family add 1/4 to 1/2 cup, to make a sweet tomato sauce. This is up to you.
You can make the sauce a day or two before you need it (and it doesn’t need to be hot when you build the lasagna):
- 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.
- 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.
Making the cheese filling:
This recipe uses ricotta cheese, which can be found in the dairy section, usually near the sour cream and cottage cheese. Sometimes people use cottage cheese in place of ricotta, which is okay, too.
Just be sure to add the egg, which gives moisture to the cheese. And if you’re feeling creative, you can make your own ricotta cheese.
In a bowl, mix the ricotta, egg, parsley, and salt together. Want an even easier shortcut? If you’re using shredded mozzarella, mix in the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, too. (Then you’d need more of the cheese filling in each of the layers.)
How to layer the lasagna:
Once you’ve made the meat sauce and the cheese filling, you’re all set.
You always want to start with sauce on the bottom of the baking dish, so the noodles don’t fuse to the casserole. The official order is sauce on the bottom, then noodles, then ricotta cheese, other cheeses, and repeat.
Here’s how to layer lasagna. You want each layer to be spread evenly from edge to edge of the baking dish so everyone gets enough of the good stuff.
- Meat sauce (about 2 cups).
- Uncooked lasagna noodles (I usually do 3 full noodles across, and then I break a 4th to fit the end.)
- Ricotta cheese mixture (a heaping 2/3 cup).
- Mozzarella cheese (1 1/2 cups or about 5 ounces).
- Parmesan cheese (1/3 cup).
Repeat the above layers, in that order, two more times (2 cups meat sauce, noodles, heaping 2/3 cup ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese) ending with the Parmesan cheese on the very top of the lasagna.
Lasagna before refrigerating:
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. This important step allows the noodles to soften and absorb the liquid.
Lasagna after refrigerating:
Baking the lasagna:
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.
Homemade lasagna with store-bought sauce:
If you want to make lasagna with your favorite commercial sauce, (looking at you Rao’s!) go right ahead. 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.
How far in advance can I make ahead lasagna?
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.
If your plans change, you can even freeze the lasagna after it has been in your fridge for a few days. In other words, this lasagna totally has your back.
Freezing overnight lasagna:
- 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.
- 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.
You can definitely add your own touches to this recipe. Please note that fresh vegetables should be cooked beforehand so they release their liquid and don’t affect the consistency of the lasagna as it bakes.
- 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.
- Fresh mozzarella. Soft and pillowy fresh mozzarella is heavenly in lasagna. If you like, add it as an extra cheese, not to completely replace the drier version the recipe calls for.
- Mushrooms. Sauté sliced mushrooms in some olive oil until they release their liquid. Then cool and tuck them in between the layers.
- Spinach. Thaw a block of frozen spinach and squeeze it inside a clean kitchen towel to dry it out. Then add the spinach along with the cheese as you assemble the lasagna.
- Eggplant. Thin slices of pre-roasted eggplant can be layered into the lasagna for melt-in-your mouth results. Roast 1/4″ slices of lightly oiled, salted eggplant on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet for 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees, until golden. Cool before adding to the layers.
- Marinara sauce. You certainly don’t have to make a meat sauce for this recipe. Use Quick Tomato Sauce and let me know how it went in the comments!
The Best Make Ahead Lasagna Recipe
For the meat sauce:
- 2 pounds ground beef and/or ground Italian sausage (I like to use one pound of each)
- 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 sugar or to taste (see notes)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the cheese filling:
- 1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 box lasagna noodles NOT no-boil
- 1 pound mozzarella cheese shredded
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated
- Minced fresh parsley for garnish
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 1/2 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 1/2 cups (5 ounces) of mozzarella. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.
- Spoon 2 cups meat sauce over the cheese. Make another layer of noodles, ricotta mixture (heaping 2/3 cup), mozzarella (1 1/2 cups) and Parmesan (1/3 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.