How to Make Lasagna alla Bolognese | Authentic Italian Lasagna Recipe
Updated: 4 days ago
While there are many types of lasagne (plural of “lasagna”) in Italy, Lasagna alla Bolognese is considered by most to be THE lasagna. It’s an incredibly delicious dish that takes patience to make, but you (and everyone at your table) will agree that it was worth the effort once you try it! In this recipe, we’ll share the secrets to making the best lasagna you’ve ever had, guaranteed.
The Origins of Lasagna
Lasagna has a long history in Italy. Interestingly, there’s much evidence to suggest that the ancestor of lasagna, “lagane,” is the oldest pasta in history. Etruscan (pre-Roman) archeological finds suggest that this ancient people made sheets of pasta dough similar to sheets of lasagne, although we don’t know exactly how they were cooked.
Lasagna alla Bolognese, as the name suggests, developed in the Italian city of Bologna. The original recipe, however, was quite different from how we know it today. Thin sheets of almost crispy pasta were layered with sautéed spinach. It’s different but yummy, so if you’re interested in trying it for yourself check out our recipe!
Over time, Bolognese lasagna evolved into the classic masterpiece we present here.
Why is Lasagna alla Bolognese green?
This often surprises the uninitiated! Real lasagna alla Bolognese is made with green, spinach-infused pasta. You might think it looks strange, but someone from Bologna would think a white lasagna is odd.
Remember the original lasagna alla Bolognese recipe we mentioned earlier? Somehow, over the years, the spinach filling from the earliest recipes evolved into pasta dough made with spinach.
What Kind of Pasta Can I Use to Make Lasagna alla Bolognese?
Although we adamantly maintain that making your own, fresh pasta (which we’ve included instructions for) is well worth the extra effort, we understand being tempted to buy pre-made pasta. Here’s the thing…
Without spinach, a lasagna technically can’t be called a “lasagna alla Bolognese” and, since you likely won’t be able to buy such pasta, you’ll have to make it yourself to try the real thing. That being said, no one can argue that skipping the spinach won’t still result in a great and delicious dish…
However, you absolutely MUST use fresh, egg pasta. Those dry sheets of store-bought pasta, while perfectly fine for some other lasagna styles, don’t belong anywhere near a lasagna alla Bolognese. Bologna is the capital city of fresh egg pasta, and all the flavors of this dish are made to harmonize with it.
Long story short, if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where store-bought, fresh egg pasta sheets are available, you can use those. Otherwise, you’ll have to make the pasta yourself (and trust us, you’ll be the better off for it).
A Quick Note on the Sauce for Lasagna alla Bolognese
Under no circumstances should you use pre-made “ragù” to make this lasagna. If you’re taking the effort to make a real lasagna alla Bolognese, then you must use the right ragù. Accept no substitute!
Some Final Tips
You’ll save a lot of time if you make the ragù and besciamella sauce the day before, so we recommend doing so. Just make sure they reach room temperature before you assemble the lasagna, and be aware that the besciamella will thicken overnight so consider making it on the thinner side.
The assembled lasagna can be frozen raw for longterm storage. Just thaw it and bake as normal. You can also freeze any cooked leftovers and simply reheat later.
Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make Lasagna alla Bolognese here:
LASAGNA ALLA BOLOGNESE RECIPE
Makes: A 2-quart lasagna (4-6 servings)
Cook Time: Up to 8 hours if making the ragù and besciamella the same day, otherwise 3-5 hours
For this recipe, you will need:
3.5 oz. (100g) baby spinach
3 large eggs
3 1/3 cups (400g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
5 cups (1.2L) ragù alla Bolognese
3 cups (700ml) besciamella sauce
1 cup (85g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or to taste
9 oz. (250g) chopped mozzarella, or to taste
Pasta machine (optional, but saves a lot of time) or rolling pin
2-quart baking dish
Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Add the baby spinach and boil for 1-2 minutes, or until wilted and very tender. Drain with a slotted spoon (hang on to the water!) and let the spinach cool to the touch. Squeeze all the excess water out, and mince the cooked spinach.
Time to make the pasta! Pour the flour into a pile on a large, clean surface and hollow out the center with your hand so that it looks like a volcano. Crack the eggs into the center and add the minced spinach in as well.
Whisk the eggs/spinach with a fork while gradually incorporating the surrounding flour. Once a thick paste has formed, you can fold in the remaining flour and begin kneading by hand. Knead the pasta until it is consistent and uniform. It should be soft but not sticky. Don’t worry if the dough doesn’t absorb all the flour in front of you: pasta is smart stuff and will take what it needs. On the other hand, if the dough is sticky, dust it with more flour as necessary.
Form the pasta dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Now it’s time to roll the pasta into lasagne sheets. You can certainly do this with a rolling pin—we’ve done it all the time! However, a pasta machine will make the process much easier and quicker so we recommend using one if you can.
Cut about 1/4 of the dough off with a knife and keep the remainder wrapped in plastic so it doesn’t dry out. If using a machine, start rolling with the thickest setting (usually 1) and gradually increase the number until you reach the correct thinness. Dust the pasta lightly with flour before rolling and each time it comes out of the machine. Roll the pasta out into a long sheet (feel free to cut it in half at any point if it gets too long to manage) until it is about 1/16-inch (2mm) in thickness—the #5 setting on a standard Marcato Atlas machine.
If you use a rolling pin, cut about 1/3 of the dough off and keep the remainder wrapped. Roll it out into a big circle on a large, smooth surface and dust the dough liberally with flour as you work. Flip it over often as you roll it out. When the dough is about 1/16th inch (2mm) thin, it’s ready to cut.
Cut the pasta sheet(s) into large rectangles. About 8x5 inches is a good, convenient size but don’t get hung up on being precise. The pasta will inevitably and unavoidably be trimmed and layered in a sort of patchwork, so don’t worry about making perfect squares. Rounded corners aren’t a big deal either! Also, hang on to little scraps or smaller pieces as those can come in useful later.
Lay the pasta sheets flat on clean, kitchen towels so that they don’t overlap. Repeat the rolling and cutting process until all of the remaining pasta dough is finished. While you work, bring the pot of spinach water back up to a rolling boil.
When all the pasta sheets are cut, they’re ready to boil. Working in batches of 2-3 at a time, drop the sheets into the pot and cook them for about 30 seconds each. Gently remove each sheet with tongs and lay it back on the towel it came from. It’s especially important here to ensure the pasta sheets don’t touch each other—they’ll stick together like glue!
Repeat until all the pasta is cooked. Preheat an oven to 390 degrees F (200 C).
Now comes the fun part: assembling the lasagna. Begin by spreading a thin layer of ragù in the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Drizzle a few spoonfuls of besciamella on top and spread it into the ragù. Next, assemble a single layer of pasta sheets on top (the individual pieces can overlap slightly). Cut pasta pieces to fit so that you can fill any holes and corners that might be exposed.
On top of the pasta, spread a hearty layer of ragù, followed by an even spread of some chopped mozzarella, a generous drizzle of besciamella, and a dusting of grated Parmigiano cheese. Now, the layers just repeat! Pasta, ragù, mozzarella, besciamella, Parmigiano.
Repeat until you’ve filled the dish—you’ll likely end up with 4-5 layers in all. Finish with a final layer of pasta on the very top. Over the pasta, spread a thick layer of ragù and besciamella sauce. Mix them together and make sure they completely cover the pasta from corner to corner. Top it all off with a generous grating of Parmigiano cheese and cover the lasagna loosely with aluminum foil.
Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake a further 20-25 minutes or until the cheese on top is slightly crispy. Let the lasagna cool for 20 minutes before serving.
Want to try a different style of lasagna? Check out our recipe for Lasagna alla Napoletana, the southern Italian answer to the Bolognese classic!