Lasagne al forno with Bolognese from Emilia-Romagna

Classic Lasagne al forno with Bolognese.

lasagne al forno with bolognese on white terracotta plate

Le lasagne alla Bolognese

Lasagne al forno with Bolognese sauce is probably one of the best known and most popular Italian pasta dishes, alongside its cousin tagliatelle bolognese. Nowadays, there are many different kinds of baked lasagne recipes. These include with seafood, vegetarian  versions and what Italians call ‘bianco’, without tomatoes. In fact, the original lasagne al forno was made without tomatoes because tomatoes didn’t exist in Italy until 18th century.

lasagne al forno with bolognese ingredients

A little lasagne al forno history

The origins of baked lasagna actually date back to the times of Ancient Rome and Greece. The Greek word ‘laganon’ and the Latin word ‘laganum’ were used to describe square or rectangular sheets of ‘pasta’ made from wheat flour. These were baked in the oven or on the fire and stuffed with meat.

Bolognese ragu in frying pan

The Roman ‘cookbook’ Apicius  (a collection of Roman recipes compiled in 1st century AD) includes a ‘lagana’ formed by thin sheets of dough stuffed with meat and cooked in the oven. But, of course this only vaguely resembled the lasagne al forno we know today.

Although lasagne pasta was popular in the Middle Ages, it wasn’t made with eggs until the invention of egg pasta in Northern Italy in the Renaissance period. Béchamel sauce was also not invented until the Renaissance and tomato sauce didn’t enter the equation until the 18th century. So, it was only then that lasagne al forno started to look like the much-loved dish of today.

lasagne al forno with bolognese in white oven dish

Different Italian versions.

Here in Italy, two regions claim the invention of baked lasagna, Emilia-Romagna and Campania (Naples). However the Neapolitan version includes ingredients such as meatballs, sausage, hard boiled eggs and ricotta cheese rather than béchamel, as well as other cheeses like provola and pecorino. The lasagne pasta also usually has ruffled or wavy edges (lasagne ricce). Because it’s such a rich dish, Neapolitan lasagna is mostly made on special occasions, especially at Carnival time. This dish was traditionally served on Mardi Gras as a kind of last blow out before Lent, as it was filled with many ingredients that were banned during Lent.

lasagne al forno with bolognese in white oven dish ready for baking

Green lasagne al forno in Emilia.

Neapolitan lasagne al forno is magnificient, but the dish most non-Italians call baked lasagna or just lasagna is the one from Emilia-Romagna. This recipes is made with Bolognese ragu, béchamel sauce and normal lasagne sheets which are often homemade, but can also be bought fresh or dried. For this recipe I used fresh pasta sheets and didn’t precook them. Dried lasagne sheets need to be half-cooked before assembling the final dish.

Interestingly, the official recipe for this lasagne al forno from the Italian Academy of Cuisine is made with green pasta sheets made with spinach. (on my to-do list!)

lasagne al forno with bolognese in white oven dish

From pesto to vincisgrassi.

Lasagne al forno is made in other Italian regions too. However, they each add a local touch to the dish. In some mountain areas, for example, the meat sauce is often replaced by mushrooms. In Liguria, they make baked lasagna with pesto. Here in Veneto they use red radicchio from Treviso. Whilst in Umbria and Marche there is a particular version called vincisgrassi.  For this they enrich the meat sauce the meat sauce with chicken or pork giblets.

The meat sauce is replaced by porcini mushrooms, truffles and pecorino cheese in the Apennine mountains. In Sicily, there is also an ‘alla Norma’ version, with eggplant.  And last but not least, there’s the excellent Sardinian lasagna made with carasau bread.

a serving of lasagne al forno with bolognese on white plate with green rim

Homemade is best!

You too can make your own version of lasagne al forno. However, this classic recipe is divine and well-worth following. For best results I’d recommend making your own lasagne pasta sheets, béchamel sauce and Bolognese ragu. But, I know not everyone has time for that. So, cutting corners with store bought pasta and ready-made béchamel will still ensure your lasagne al forno is delicious. However, I’d definitely recommend making homemade Bolognese!

If you make this baked lasagna recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out and if you liked it. Please leave a comment here on the blog or on The Pasta Project Facebook page.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Buon appetito!

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lasagne al forno with bolognese

5 from 5 votes
lasagna with bolognese sauce
Lasagne al forno with bolognese ragu
Prep Time
3 hrs
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
3 hrs 30 mins
 

This classic recipe for baked lasagna is the ultimate comfort food.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Emilia-Romagna, Italian, Northern Italy
Servings: 6
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
Ingredients
For bolognese
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 carrots washed and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks washed and finely chopped
  • 300 g minced beef
  • 300 g minced pork
  • 100 ml white or red wine ( I used white)
  • 200 ml fresh whole milk
  • 200 ml beef or chicken stock
  • 400 g fresh tomatoes or tomato passata (I like to use half and half)
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
For the béchamel (white sauce)
  • 100 g all purpose flour sifted
  • 100 g butter
  • 1 lt fresh milk
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
For the finished dish
  • 500g lasagne sheets
  • 90 g Parmesan cheese grated
Instructions
Make the bolognese (this takes 2-3 hours)
  1. Fry the vegetables in a little olive oil until they soften. (Some Italian chefs insist that the meat and vegetables be fried separately as they require different levels of heat)

  2. In a separate pan fry the minced meat in heated olive oil over a medium heat until it begins to brown and then add the vegetables. (you can also cook the meat with the veg)

  3. Add the wine and continue stirring. When the alcohol has evaporated, add the tomatoes and/or passata and the stock.

  4. Lower the heat and leave to simmer partially covered for at least 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. 

  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  6. Add the milk, stir and continue to let the sauce simmer for another 30 minutes.

  7. If you think the sauce is too liquidy you can remove the cover completely till it reduces. But if you are using fresh or uncooked pasta the sauce needs to be a little liquidy.

Make the béchamel (white sauce)
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, incorporate the sifted flour and mix everything with a wooden spoon or whisk until you have a paste (roux)

  2. Cook the roux until it is golden, and at this point add the milk a little at a time, plus a pinch of salt and a ½ teaspoon of grated nutmeg. Continue to stir until the sauce reaches the consistency you want.

Cook the pasta
  1. If you are using dried pasta sheets partly cook them in boiling salted water. You may want to add a little olive oil to the water so they don't stick together or cook them one at a time! 

Finish the dish
  1. Then butter a rectangular baking dish and spread a little sauce on the bottom. Make a layer of lasagne sheets, cover them with a layer of sauce, some béchamel and a sprinkling of grated cheese. 

  2. Then put another layer of pasta, then bolognese sauce, béchamel and cheese and so on until the ingredients are used up, leaving some béchamel for the final layer. 

  3. Cover the last layer with béchamel sauce, grated parmesan and some butter flakes.

  4. Bake your lasagne al forno in a preheated oven at 160 degrees for about thirty minutes. When the surface is golden and the pasta is cooked (check using a fork) remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. If using uncooked pasta it's a good idea to cover the dish with aluminium foil for the first 15 minutes as otherwise the top may get golden before the pasta is cooked.

  5. Allow the lasagne al forno to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving. 

Recipe Notes

Preparation times include the time needed to make the bolognese and béchamel sauce.

lasagne al forno with bolognese ragu

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20 Comments

  • Avatar
    Iain McCorquodale
    March 10, 2019 1:55 am

    Ideally, how many layers would you have?

    • Jacqui
      Jacqui
      March 10, 2019 9:15 am

      Hi Iain. I usually end up with about 4 layers of pasta. However, some Italians make up to 8. It depends on how deep your dish is and how much sauce etc your put between the pasta layers and how thick the pasta sheets are.

  • Avatar
    Fred Nonterah
    March 7, 2018 11:37 pm

    Thanks for the history lesson Jacqui, never knew tomatoes weren’t grown in Italy until the 18th century. My wife is a big fan of lasagna and I’m she’ll love it, maybe I can surprise her with this recipe one day. Thanks for sharing!

    • admin
      admin
      March 9, 2018 7:14 pm

      Thanks so much for you comment Fred! I love that so many Italian dishes have a long history behind them. Makes eating them interesting! I’m sure your wife will love it! All the best from Verona! Jacqui

  • Avatar
    Kiki Johnson
    March 7, 2018 10:32 pm

    I make lasagna every single year for Christmas and during the year, I try out as many new recipes as I can to be able to surprise my family with a new twist each time. I will bookmark your recipe and try it next weekend! It looks SO good!

    • admin
      admin
      March 9, 2018 7:17 pm

      Grazie Kiki! Lasagna is popular in Italy at Christmas too. In fact, it’s very often served on holidays and special occasions! I’m sure you’ll love this version. It’s really the original of what most of us make! Buon appetito from Verona. Jacqui

  • Avatar
    MakingHerstory
    March 7, 2018 9:18 pm

    Looks yummy!! Love ask the information as well!!

    • admin
      admin
      March 9, 2018 7:19 pm

      Thanks so much MakingHerstory! I’m happy you like the dish and the info! All the best from Verona! Jacqui.

  • Avatar
    Jyothi
    March 7, 2018 6:41 pm

    Anytime lasagna. Looks delicious!

    • admin
      admin
      March 9, 2018 7:20 pm

      Thanks so much Jyothi, Yes I’m with you. Lasagna any time! Best wishes from Verona, Jacqui

  • Avatar
    Bobbi | Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen
    March 7, 2018 3:58 pm

    YUM!! That looks SO good! Like, I wish I had it for breakfast today good 🙂

    • admin
      admin
      March 7, 2018 4:37 pm

      haha lasagne al forno for breakfast would be an unusual choice Bobbi, but why not! Regards from Verona! Jacqui

  • Avatar
    Stephanie
    March 7, 2018 2:30 pm

    I had no idea there was such a history behind lasagna! I like mine without meat and a lot of cheese. I’ve never heard of hard-boiled eggs in it, that would definitely be different!

    • admin
      admin
      March 7, 2018 4:47 pm

      Thanks for your feedback Stephanie. Yes, lasagne is a very ancient pasta here in Italy and so has a long history and many different versions apart from this one. There are a number of vegetarian lasagne al forno recipes which are delicious too. Here on the blog I have recipes for 2. Lasagne alla Norma and white lasagna with mushrooms and burrata. I’m sure you would like them! All the best from Verona! Jacqui

  • Avatar
    Amanda Wren-Grimwood
    March 6, 2018 11:46 am

    I love a lasagne and I love this version with the proper ragu. So rich and comforting!

    • admin
      admin
      March 7, 2018 8:24 am

      Thank you Amanda! Yes this is my absolute favourite way to make lasagne al forno. The ragu gives it such an awesome flavour! The ultimate comfort food! All the best Jacqui

  • Avatar
    Tristin
    March 4, 2018 7:11 pm

    I love all the different variations and customization ideas you give! Great recipe!!

    • admin
      admin
      March 7, 2018 8:40 am

      Grazie Tristin. I do love the different ways Italians make their pasta dishes. Although Italy isn’t a big country, each region has its own cuisine and it’s so interesting to try different versions of popular dishes! And of course there’s lots of room for creativity where pasta is concerned! Thank you for visiting. All the best from Verona! Jacqui

  • Avatar
    Brian Jones
    March 4, 2018 8:38 am

    A good lasagne is a thing of great beauty and it is such a forgiving dish too with loads of room for reheating and scaling. Yours looks delicious!

    • admin
      admin
      March 7, 2018 8:46 am

      I agree Brian, lasagne al forno is a divine combination of tastes that is hard to beat! And yes, it still tastes amazing reheated! All the best from Verona! Jacqui

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