Whether you’re cooking your first lasagna or your fortieth, here’s your complete guide to making it everything you want—and more. 

By Tiffany Stevens
January 21, 2020
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Although it’s not normally marketed as such, lasagna definitely deserves its spot among all-weather comfort foods. It’s a warm, filling dish on chilly nights and still tastes delicious eaten cold out of the fridge the next day. Plus, with dozens of seasonal vegetables to play with, lasagna is versatile enough to be the star of the dinner table during any season. However, making lasagna from scratch can seem too time-consuming to take up. With all the layering involved, it can be tempting to reach for a frozen, pre-made lasagna, instead of coming up with your own, unique take on the classic Italian dish.

Making a custom lasagna may take a little bit of work the first few times, but with practice the Italian dish will soon become a go-to staple even for weeknight meals (it freezes beautifully, by the way). To help you put together your first—or fortieth—lasagna, we’ve created this guide that will take you through the process from start to finish, beginning with putting together a filling and ending with exploring cooking methods beyond your usual oven-baked dish. Use this tutorial to try out a new lasagna for the first time, or to explore a new potential variation on your family’s favorite recipe. 

Photo: Lee Harrelson; Styling: Jan Gautro, Laura Martin

Step One: Choose Your Filling + Noodles

Since the filling is really what gives the lasagna the bulk of its flavor, it’s best to make this decision first when constructing your lasagna. Or rather, it’s best to make this set of decisions, because the filling is—of course—composed of layers. A good lasagna needs carbs, cheese, and some medley of ingredients between: meat, vegetables, or a combination of both. And since those components must work in harmony, they’re best selected all at once. 

At this stage, you can be as creative or as traditional as you’d like to be. For a classic meat lasagna, pick up some ground beef, lamb or another animal protein, grab some ricotta and mozzarella, and cook lasagna noodles of your choosing. For a primavera lasagna, saute up some spring vegetables. Winter veggies, like kale and butternut, can be made palatable to picky eaters when they’re tucked into a saucy, cheesy lasagna. And if you don’t want to bother with cooking noodles when putting the meal together, you can of course use no-boil noodles. Just be sure to make the sauce a little looser than you normally would. Alternatively, you could also use vegetables in place of the noodles, like in our eggplant and zucchini lasagna variations.

The filling stage is also when you can play around with alternatives to standard lasagna ingredients. If your family is a fan of Tex-Mex, for example, a taco-themed lasagna that uses tortillas in place of noodles and cotija in place of ricotta can be a fun way to switch up the normal dinner routine. And using prepared ravioli in place of lasagna noodles can also be a great (and easy) way to inject more personality in your lasagna, while still sticking with a more traditional meat base. 

Photo: Thomas J. Story

Step Two: Choose Your Sauce

After you’ve decided on your fillings, figure out what kind of sauce might best fill out the dish. For example, you can choose a traditional, tomato-based meat sauce, or you can grab a jar of alfredo for a creamy finish. Making your own bechamel is, of course, also an option. Some recipes, like the creamy spinach lasagna linked above, mix red sauce with white, while others, like the mushroom lasagna, principally lean on butter as the sauce’s backbone. If you’re doing a lasagna take on another culture’s cuisine, you can choose a sauce that goes with the food you’re emulating. Enchilada sauce goes great with the Mexican lasagna mentioned above, for example, and a Thai-inspired lasagna using rice paper in place of regular lasagna noodles might be best finished off with a peanut sauce. Use your imagination to figure out which sauce will best create a harmonious, appetite-satiating meal. 

Photo: Hector Sanchez; Styling: Lydia Degaris Pursell

Step Three: Choose Your Lasagna Format

Now that you’ve chosen your noodles, filling, and sauce, it’s time to figure how you want your lasagna assembled. Of course, if you’re going with the traditional layered variety, you may just want to go ahead and layer sauce, filling, cheese, and noodles in a rectangular or square oven-safe dish. But if you’d rather serve your lasagna in rolls, instead of layers, then cook up your noodles, stir your other fillings in with your ricotta (or whatever soft cheese you choose to use) spread a layer of the cheese and filling mixture on each noodle, and then roll them up. Place them snugly in a casserole dish, then cover with sauce (and more cheese, if desired). Roll-up lasagnas take a bit more time than the traditional casserole, but they can be a fun way to mix up an otherwise familiar pasta dinner. 

As we’ll discuss below, lasagna can also take the form of a skillet meal or a pizza. And if you’re really not feeling like putting a lot of effort into assembling lasagna, then you can simply use this Free-Form Lasagna recipe, which allows you to place the freshly cooked pasta directly on the plate, spread ricotta that’s been heated in the microwave on the noodles and then spoon the filling directly from the skillet. No oven required. 

Step Four: Store Your Lasagna For Later (Optional)

With all the assembly work that goes into lasagna, it’s a dish that’s best made in bulk. So if you want to make more than one lasagna at once, or simply assemble and save your dish for a later date, then place in a freezer-safe container or wrap the cooking vessel in several layers of plastic wrap to keep it fresh. When you’re ready to cook it, thaw the lasagna overnight and then bake as you normally would. 

Step Five: Cook Your Lasagna 

Photo: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Lindsey Lower

How to Make Lasagna In the Oven

If you’re making up a custom lasagna, it’s a safe bet to heat the oven to between 350° and 375°. Most lasagnas also cook for at least 30 minutes, but sometimes for up to an hour. When following a recipe, feel free to go with the recommended temperature and time, of course. Cooking lasagna in the oven can also cause the cheese scattered on top to brown prematurely, so it’s best to cover the casserole with aluminum foil for the bulk of the baking time. During the last 10 minutes, the foil can be removed so the oven can provide a beautifully browned, but still unburnt, crust. 

Meredith Food Studios

How to Make Lasagna In an Instant Pot

Get the Recipe: Instant Pot Lasagna Recipe

If you happen to have a springform pan and an Instant Pot, then you can let that handy pressure-cooking device take care of dinner. For this variation, spray a springform pan with non-stick cooking oil and layer up your lasagna ingredients as you normally would, preferably using no-boil lasagna noodles. Place a rack in the bottom of your Instant Pot, and then fill the bottom with at least one cup of water. Put a piece of aluminum foil over your lasagna, place the springform pan on top of the rack, and then use the pressure cooking function to cook the dish for 12 minutes. Be sure to release the pressure on the Instant Pot before carefully removing the springform pan and allowing the dish to cool. Serve and enjoy. 

Photography: Jennifer Causey; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Thom Driver.

How to Make a Lasagna Skillet

Skillet lasagna isn’t only reserved for Hamburger Helper. To make a skillet lasagna, decide whether you want to go for full-sized noodles, or for miniature lasagna noodles (also known as mafalda). If you want full size noodles, go ahead and cook them ahead of time. Break them in half and then layer the lasagna in the pan after you cook the fillings. Cover the skillet and simmer the lasagna in its sauce for at least 10 to 15 minutes, to help the flavors meld. If you’re looking to shortcut the process even further, try skipping yet another step by simmering the noodles directly in the sauce.

Photo: Aaron Kirk; Prop Styling: Sarah Elizabeth Cleveland; Food Styling: Robby Melvin

How to Make a Lasagna Pizza 

Get the Recipes: Lasagna Pizza, Lasagna Pizza Cups

If you really tire of the usual lasagna format, try making the dish into a hearty pizza. Lasagna noodles can make for an interesting (and delicious) pizza topping, and the usual lasagna fillings can make for great mini pizzas when spooned into easy biscuit cups. Feel free to experiment and make up your own lasagna-inspired creation. Because at the end of the day, whether you’re serving up a traditional, layered and baked lasagna or you’re making a lasagna-inspired dip, this pasta casserole is always a winner