Linda Ann Marianello’s Grandma’s Lasagna
Updated: Apr 8
My family is from Napoli, where lasagna is a food of celebration. This may take you a whole day to make, but it is worth every second!!!
Make the sauce, which we call the ragu in southern Italy.
1 lb each of ground beef, pork, and veal
(I don't use veal anymore, but that is the classic recipe.)
4-5 cans of peeled San Marzano tomatoes
3-4 cloves of garlic
Additional minced garlic
First, make the tomato sauce. I used to strain the tomatoes, but now put them in the blender. If you don't like the seeds, you can strain them.
Open at least 4 cans of the San Marzano tomatoes. I keep an extra on hand in case I need a bit more sauce for the lasagna.
Heat 3 or 4 cloves of garlic in olive oil until they start to brown, then turn the heat down to low.
Use the blender, one can at a time, to "strain" the tomatoes. Add each can of blended tomatoes to the garlic and oil. Allow to cook on low heat while you make the meatballs. You don't want a chunky ragu for lasagna, so be sure to blend the tomatoes thoroughly.
Put the meat into a large mixing bowl. Add 6 eggs, minced garlic, bread crumbs (we make our own from my husband's bread!), and pine nuts. You can add finely chopped Italian-style parsely here, if you like.
Using your hands, mix everything together until it has a consistency that is not runny and holds together nicely. You may have to add more bread crumbs or an extra egg to get the right consistency. The mixture should not stick to your hands.
Make the meatballs into whatever size you prefer. Pan brown them in olive oil until all sides are nicely browned. When they are done, drain them on a plate with paper towels. Then add them, one at a time, to the sauce.
Let the meatballs and sauce cook on very low heat for a few hours. Be sure to check the ragu every 30 minutes to make sure it is not burning on the bottom of the pot.
NB: I let the ragu rest overnight in the fridge & make the lasagna the next day.
You can add sausage and/or stewing meat to the ragu if you like. I usually don't for lasagna. You can also stop here, make spaghetti, and enjoy spaghetti & meatballs, topped with grated parmesan.
So you have your sauce with meatballs and, if you wish, also with sausage and/or braised beef. My grandmother used to do all 3 in her ragu. I usually do just the meatballs.
What you need to assemble the lasagna:
•Fresh mozzarella: NB, hard or part skim mozzarella just doesn't make it if you want a genuine Italian version.
•Grated parmesan cheese: again the real McCoy, not grated beforehand (loses flavor), and imported from Italy. It's called parmigiana reggiano.
•Put the meatballs aside and leave the sauce in your pot, i.e., separate them beforehand.
•Lasagna noodles: I like Barilla or another top Italian brand.
There are several key elements to making a great lasagna. You cannot skimp on the ingredients. This is true of Italian food generally. Every saving on excellent ingredients means a less delicious result. This being said, do what you can afford. We all have to handle limitations, and some things may not be available in stores nowadays. I shop for my Italian ingredients mainly at Whole Foods.
Secondly, you can make a very large amount and freeze portions for later. We always have at least 1 big container to freeze for another time. And we generally make lasagna for major holidays or important gatherings, which are not possible right now. This means you could have 3 or 4 containers to freeze after your initial meal.
I prepare all of the ingredients to assemble in advance: This means breaking up the meatballs into bite-size chunks with a fork, put in a bowl and set aside. Ditto leaving the sauce in the pot to ladle over each layer. Cut the mozzarella into bite-size pieces and place at the ready in a large mixing bowl. Grate the parmesan and have it ready to sprinkle over each layer or just on top, as you prefer. We don't cook with salt in our home, but you can add salt and pepper to taste as you assemble the lasagna.
1)Boil water and add a bit of salt. Put the lasagna in the water and parboil it. Don't walk away, but stir and observe the texture of the lasagna. You don't want to parboil it for more than a few minutes. It should still be only partially cooked.
2)Pour the water off the lasagna noodles and leave them in a large collender. They will tend to stick together, but if you keep them in the kitchen sink, you can rinse them again to separate the noodles during assembly.
3)In your large baking dish - you can use a glass or a stainless baking dish, as long as it's the right size & rectangular, rather than square - put a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom. Then add your first layer of noodles.
4)Ladle more sauce on top of the noodles, then add chunks of meatball and mozzarella. Sprinkle a bit of parmesan and black pepper on top, if you like.
5)Repeat this process until you are close to the top of the baking dish. Don't overfill it, or the sauce will bubble over in the oven and make a mess. Plus you'll lose ingredients that way.
6)The final layer will consist of sauce and toppings. Definitely sprinkle parmesan on the top layer before putting in the oven.
My personal preference is for cooking at a more moderate temperature for longer. If you want to brown the lasagna on top, you can always turn up the oven for the last 10-15 minutes of baking. I recommend a 350-375 F oven for at least 1 hour.
Please let me know how you do with Grandma Marianiello's lasagna recipe.