Alex Guarnaschelli's Lasagna

Photo from Elizabeth Griffin. 

This winter season, bring a piece of Italy into your home with this classic pasta dish, inspired by chef Alex Guarneschelli's grandmother. This lasagna is a perfect balance of cheese, noodles, and sauce that your whole family will love. Follow the directions to a T to ensure you don't end up with a soupy or dried out finished product. Buon appetito! 

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1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
kosher salt, to taste
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp sugar
1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
12 oz 90% lean ground beef, preferably chopped sirloin (meatballs)
4 oz ground veal
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs, toasted, plus more if needed
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
1 large egg
3 medium garlic cloves, grated
1/3 cup canola oil
1 lb dried lasagna sheets (for pasta)
1 lb whole-milk mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 lb whole-milk ricotta cheese
3 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano

For the sauce:

1. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.


2. Add the onion and garlic and season with 1 tablespoon salt. Stir in the red pepper flakes and sugar, and cook for two minutes. Then add the tomatoes, with their juices, and the oregano.


3. Cook for a few more minutes over high heat, stirring from time to time. Taste for seasoning, add the basil leaves and remove from the heat.


For the meatballs:

1. Put the beef and the veal in a large bowl and spread the meat all over the bottom of the bowl and up the sides.


2. Sprinkle the meat with 2 teaspoons of salt. Then sprinkle the bread crumbs, Parmigiana-Reggiano, and the parsley all over the meat.


3. Use your hands to mix the ingredients together. Then, in a small bowl, whisk together the egg and garlic.


4. Drizzle the egg mixture over the meat. Mix the meat thoroughly with your hands.


5. Test a meatball: form a small meatball with your hands.


6. Heat a splash of the canola oil in a small skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, add the meatballs, lower the heat, and cook it over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes.


7. Taste for seasoning and texture. If it seems too wet, add more breadcrumbs. If too dry, add some water.


8. Adjust the seasoning to the mixture in the bowl as needed. Roll the remaining meat into balls; you should have about 40 very small meatballs.


For the pasta:

1. Bring 6 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot over high heat and season with ½ cup salt. The pasta water should taste salty. Don’t overcook your noodles (overcooked noodles won’t absorb sauce so you get soggy lasagna.)


2. Add the lasagna sheets, stirring with a slotted spoon to make sure they do not clump or stick to the bottom and cook for 4 minutes.


3. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water, and drain again. The pasta should still be very firm to the touch. Separate the sheets carefully so they don’t stick together.


4. Preheat the oven to 350°F


Assemble the lasagna:

1. Spoon a thin layer of the sauce over the bottom of a 9 x13-inch baking pan. Sauce the bottom of the dish (keeps from getting dry).


2. Arrange a layer of pasta sheets over the sauce. Sprinkle one-fourth of the mozzarella, ricotta, and parm over the pasta, and then add another thin layer of sauce.


3. Dot the surface with about one-third of the meatballs, spacing them evenly. Repeat the layering process two more times.


4. Add a final layer of the pasta and top it with the remaining sauce and cheese.


5. Cover the dish tightly with foil and put it in the center of the oven. Then bake for 45 minutes. 


6. Raise the oven temperature to 450°F and remove the foil. Bake the lasagna until the top browns slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lasagna from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes before serving. Like meat, lasagna needs to rest so that it can absorb any juices and so it won’t slide around once you cut it.