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Hearty Baked Lasagna Casserole

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Peg Cole is a self-taught cook who shares favorite recipes and methods of cooking and baking.

Lasagna Casserole Ready to Serve

Lasagna Casserole Ready to Serve

The Secret Is in the Sauce

My husband loves to cook. Years into our marriage, he was finally willing to share his secret recipe for marinara sauce that he's prepared many times. It's the first meal he ever made to impress me when we were dating.

Marinara sauce tends to turn out unique to each person that cooks it. Finding just the right blend of spices is a matter of taste, with each batch having its own unique flavor. Here's the spaghetti sauce recipe he shared with me.

lasagne-for-the-family

The basis for making a good lasagna casserole is the sauce. The secret is in letting it simmer long enough to develop a good flavor while finding the proper balance of spices, type of sausage, meat and other ingredients that improve the flavor.

The sauce is suitable to be used in different recipes like manicotti, ziti, rotini, rigatoni or other types of pasta. It's good with regular spaghetti, too.

Secret Ingredients

If you watched the movie The Godfather, you might remember when Clemenza was cooking spaghetti for twenty guys and he added his secret ingredient to the sauce. His secret was adding a bit of sugar and a splash of wine to the sauce while it simmers.

Hot out of the oven, it needs to rest about five minutes before serving.

Hot out of the oven, it needs to rest about five minutes before serving.

Prepare Ahead of Time, Bake Later

Making lasagna at home can take a little time, but the end result is well worth the effort. Usually, I make lasagna to serve on Christmas Eve or on the day before Thanksgiving, since that's when most guests visit our house. The casserole can be made ahead of time, refrigerated, and baked on the day it's to be served, making it the ideal meal for a family gathering.

It can also be frozen for later use; however, I would recommend using a metal baking pan rather than a glass pan when freezing the casserole. It's possible to line the pan completely with aluminum foil so that the foil package can be taken out of the pan to conserve freezer space and free up the use of your baking pan.

We make so much pasta, we buy our tomato sauce by the case.

We make so much pasta, we buy our tomato sauce by the case.

Marinara Sauce Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon onion, minced, fresh, or dried
  • 4 cans tomato sauce, 16 ounce
  • 1 can tomato paste, 12 ounce
  • 1 pound ground sirloin, or ground chuck
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage, ground or links cut up
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
Making a large batch and freezing some for future use makes meal preparation easy.

Making a large batch and freezing some for future use makes meal preparation easy.

Instructions for Making the Sauce

  1. Start by warming a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot.
  2. Add the garlic and minced onions and cook until they become transparent.
  3. Add the ground beef and cook until it's thoroughly done. Remove the cooked beef into a separate dish and drain it on paper towels if it's especially fatty.
  4. Using the same pan, cook the mild Italian sausage until browned and drain off any excess fat.
  5. Return the cooked ground beef to the pan.
  6. Add the four cans of tomato sauce.
  7. Add the tomato paste.
  8. Add one or two teaspoons of granulated sugar along with the remaining spices.
  9. Cover the mixture and simmer over low heat stirring occasionally for one hour or longer.
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While this is simmering, prepare the other ingredients that will be layered in a casserole dish.

Cheese sauce for layering the casserole

Cheese sauce for layering the casserole

Ingredients for the Three Cheese Mixture

  1. 1/2 pound (8-ounce) whole milk mozzarella or use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese
  2. 1 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
  3. 2 eggs, scrambled
  4. 1 (15-ounce) carton of ricotta cheese
  5. 1 tablespoon dried parsley (optional)
Fifteen ounce container of Ricotta, eight ounces of shredded Mozzarella, a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese and two eggs.

Fifteen ounce container of Ricotta, eight ounces of shredded Mozzarella, a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese and two eggs.

Instructions for Making the Cheese Mixture

Stir together the ingredients for the three-cheese mixture while the sauce is simmering.

  1. Shred the block mozzarella cheese or use ready-prepared shredded cheese.
  2. Scramble two eggs in a medium sized bowl.
  3. Add the ricotta cheese.
  4. Stir in the Parmesan and mozzarella cheese.
  5. Add the parsley if desired.
  6. Cover the mixture with cellophane wrap and refrigerate it while you cook the lasagna noodles.
Add the Shredded Parmesan Cheese and Mozzarella

Add the Shredded Parmesan Cheese and Mozzarella

I like to add the noodles to a pan of boiling water one at a time.

I like to add the noodles to a pan of boiling water one at a time.

Instructions for Preparing the Lasagna Noodles

  1. Fill a large pan with water.
  2. Bring to a boil and add 1 tsp. salt.
  3. Add the noodles slowly to keep the water boiling.
  4. Cook the noodles until tender, following the package directions.
  5. To make handling the cooked noodles easier, cook them 2-3 minutes less than the instructions say.
  6. Drain the pan and arrange the noodles on a lightly greased cookie sheet for ease in layering.

If you prefer, you can use ready-to-bake lasagna noodles that don't require boiling before use.

Stage the cooked noodles on a greased cookie sheet

Stage the cooked noodles on a greased cookie sheet

Instructions for Preparing the Casserole

  1. Start by spooning a thin layer of sauce into an oven-proof casserole dish. Make sure there's enough sauce to cover the bottom of the dish.
  2. Place a layer of noodles across the top of the sauce slightly overlapping the edges.
  3. Next, spoon a layer of the cheese mixture over the noodles. Smooth the cheese to evenly cover the noodles.
  4. Repeat from step one by putting sauce on top of the noodles and continue to layer the noodles, cheese, and sauce ending with a layer of sauce.
I like to use a 13 x 9 inch glass baking dish but any deep dish oven proof dish will work.

I like to use a 13 x 9 inch glass baking dish but any deep dish oven proof dish will work.

Step 1 and 2: Layer Sauce, Then Noodles

Spoon enough sauce to cover the bottom of the dish, then, place a layer of noodles on the sauce.

Spoon enough sauce to cover the bottom of the dish, then, place a layer of noodles on the sauce.

Step 3: Spoon on the Cheese Mixture

Spoon the cheese mixture over the noodles and smooth evenly to the edges

Spoon the cheese mixture over the noodles and smooth evenly to the edges

Step 4: Sauce Goes on Top of Cheese

Spoon more sauce to cover the cheese mixture then continue layering the casserole ending with sauce on the top.

Spoon more sauce to cover the cheese mixture then continue layering the casserole ending with sauce on the top.

Step 5: End With Sauce and a Sprinkling of Shredded Cheese

On top of the end layer of sauce, sprinkle a small amount of shredded Mozarella cheese and shredded Parmesan cheese if desired before baking.

On top of the end layer of sauce, sprinkle a small amount of shredded Mozarella cheese and shredded Parmesan cheese if desired before baking.

Instructions for Baking the Casserole

  1. Cover the casserole with a layer of aluminum foil with small holes poked in the top to allow steam to escape.
  2. Place the casserole on a foil-lined cookie sheet to keep the oven clean in case it spills over.
  3. Bake the casserole in a 350-degree oven for around 45-55 minutes until it starts to bubble all the way through.
  4. Remove the casserole from the oven.
  5. After baking, remove the dish from the oven and allow the lasagna to rest for about 10 minutes before cutting to serve. Use a serrated knife and a spatula to dish out individual servings.

This dish can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for cooking later.

Before baking, cover the lasagna tightly with a cellophane wrap and refrigerate overnight. Cooking time is slightly longer if the lasagna has been refrigerated.

Leftovers are great warmed up the next day.

Ready to Bake

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes until bubbly.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes until bubbly.

After Baking

The dish is ready when it starts bubbling all through the casserole.

The dish is ready when it starts bubbling all through the casserole.

Quick Meals in Less than 20 Minutes

Making a large batch of sauce leads the way to several easy pasta-based meals. After the first night of use, freeze the remaining sauce in family-sized portions in plastic containers, usually about two cups per container. After the sauce cools, ladle it into the containers, remove the excess air and store them in the freezer until needed.

A homemade meal can be prepared as quickly as you can boil the water and cook any type of pasta desired—spaghetti, rotini, elbows, or shells. Turn the frozen sauce out into a microwave-safe dish and cover the dish with wax paper.

While the pasta is boiling, microwave the sauce one minute at a time, stirring between times until it reaches the temperature desired. Served with a side vegetable or salad and garlic bread it makes an easy, delicious meal.

© 2015 Peg Cole

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