Growing up in an Italian-American household, as I did, meant that our Sundays revolved around cooking, culminating in a long, relaxed family supper. Homemade pasta was the star of the show, and I loved watching my mother roll out the sheets of fresh dough while a big pot of simmering red sauce perfumed the house. On the best Sundays, she would chop the meat from her sauce and layer it between the thin pasta sheets, along with creamy ricotta and mozzarella, to make her signature lasagne. She’d pull it hot and bubbling from the oven, and my brothers and I would scramble around the kitchen table, waiting for the dish to cool so we could cut into it. The first bite was always a delicious reminder of just how satisfying homemade lasagne is—sweet from the tomatoes, savory from the cheeses, and tender from the handmade pasta.
The success of the dish depends on using very thin, freshly made sheets of pasta. The thinness of the pasta lets the flavors of the sauce and cheese marry to create a lasagne that’s light and truly special. It cannot be duplicated with thicker store-bought noodles.
Here, I’ll walk you through the steps to making fresh pasta just like my mother’s. I’ll also show you how to make a sauce from canned tomatoes that tastes amazingly fresh. Then all you have to do is layer everything together with cheese and bake it.
As much as I love classic tomato and cheese lasagne, I’ve had a lot of fun over the years creating new flavor combinations that show off the delicate yet firm texture of fresh lasagne noodles. The Braised Beef Short Rib with Porcini Lasagne and the Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Lasagne are two delicious examples.
I won’t pretend that making lasagne from scratch is easy, but if you follow my lead, the rewards will be well worth the effort.
Twelve steps to mouthwatering lasagne
Make a silky pasta dough
Cracks may open in the well as you’re mixing the flour into the eggs. If that happens, push flour into the cracks to close them. Continue mixing in flour, a bit at a time, until the soft, wet dough holds together enough that you can work it with your hands.
Step 2 Knead until the pasta dough is smooth, elastic, and barely tacky. You can dust the dough with more flour if it’s too sticky, but try not to add too much additional flour or the pasta will be tough.
Make the pasta dough.
Kneed the pasta dough.
Roll the dough until thin and supple
Repeatedly folding the dough into thirds, like a letter, and passing it through the widest setting of the machine helps form gluten in the pasta, which gives it its firm texture.
Step 4 Passing the dough through consecutively narrower settings on the pasta machine stretches and thins it to the proper thickness, which is about 1/16 inch thick.