One of the things I love most about food, and there are many, is its ability to heal, comfort, and help us reminisce. We all know how eating a balanced diet loaded with fruits and vegetables can benefit our health. But sometimes you just want the opposite of everything you “should” be eating. Maybe you had a rough week at work, or your significant other just broke your heart or you’re feeling homesick. Then, the craving sets in for your favorite comfort food—spaghetti and meatballs, tacos, a big bowl of ice cream, grilled cheese with tomato soup, a Philly cheesesteak, you get the idea. For me, a delectable homemade lasagna is the ultimate comfort food.
Why Are Comfort Foods So Comforting?
The Collins Dictionary defines comfort food as “any food eaten not only for its pleasing taste but also for a sense of contentment, nostalgia, etc. that it provides.” And also, something that’s “enjoyable to eat and makes you feel happier, although it may not be very good for your health.” Well, lasagna definitely checks all of those boxes for me. I mean, what’s not to love about pasta layered with savory Bolognese sauce, creamy bechamel, and tons of gooey, melted cheese? Cue * stomach growls*.
Growing up, my mom often made homemade lasagna for our family. It was always one of me and my brothers’ favorite meals. Whenever I eat lasagna, it instantly takes me back to those memories around the dinner table with my family. Memories that are all the more special to me since my brother passed away years ago and even more special now that I live in Europe, far away from my family.
Lasagna vs. Pasta Al Forno
Now that I’m married to an Italian, my love for lasagna has been elevated to another level. I’ll never forget those first magnificent bites of Marco’s mom’s pasta al forno. A much more authentic version of the lasagna that I grew up on, as one might expect from an Italian dish made by Italians. Though I can’t say one version is better than the other.
Mom’s lasagna is so special to me because it’s made with her homemade tomato sauce that is so delicious I wouldn’t be surprised to find you drinking it straight from the jar. Mamma Pina makes her pasta al forno in the traditional Italian style with that homemade bechamel, homemade sugo, and perfectly balanced layers.
Personally, I love an extra saucy lasagna because that tastes like home to me. So, this homemade lasagna recipe is the culmination of my American lasagna experience coupled with lessons learned cooking with my Italian mother-in-law.
A Little Grammar Lesson
Before we get into the recipe, let’s talk a little lesson in Italian grammar. Because in America, as with so many Italian words, we’re saying it wrong. Lasagna in Italian refers to a single lasagna noodle. Whereas lasagne with the “e” ending makes it plural. Just like we call a pressed sandwich a panini after the Italian word panino. But if you ordered a panini in Italy, you would get multiple sandwiches because panini is plural for panino. However, since I’m American (and many of you reading this blog are, too), I’m sticking with lasagna. Though we can also call this dish pasta al forno, just as they do in Italy.
Perfect Wine Pairings for Lasagna
Now, if you’re going to enjoy a comforting dish like lasagna loaded with luscious bechamel, melted mozzarella, and flavor packed sugo (Italian for tomato sauce), then you might as well have the perfect wine to sip for some extra comfort. Since lasagna is doused in tomato sauce and tomatoes have tons of acidity, you’ll need a wine with high acidity to match. That acidity will also help cut through the rich, creamy bechamel sauce and melted cheese. A wine with low to medium tannins, plus a combination fruit and savory flavors would also be ideal.
Barbera D’Alba is always my go to wine with lasagna. Mouthwatering acidity with low to medium tannins, plus tart cherry, blackberry, licorice, and dried herb flavors and aromas make this a delicious match. Try this Barbera from Francone—it’s exceptional!
Pinot Noir, Cannonoau, and Montepulciano D’Abruzzo are other fantastic wine pairings for homemade lasagna. Now, here’s the recipe. Marco’s sister is staying with us for a while and I made this lasagna the night she arrived in France. Both Italians gave an approval of “molto buona” and already requested this lasagna again. While I wanted to snap a few beautiful shots of the whole dish, we devoured it way too quickly.
Let me know if you make it, what you pair with your lasagna, and how you like it in the comments below!
This homemade lasagna is easy to prepare and guaranteed to be a huge hit. The secret ingredient is time….the longer you let the sauce cook, the tastier it gets!
- 1 16oz package of lasagna pasta
- 250 gr low moisture mozzarella cheese, cubed
- 128 gr shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 cup)
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 white onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 carrot, chopped thinly
- 24 oz ground beef
- 4-6 oz white wine
- salt, pepper, red pepper, oregano
- 4 leaves fresh basil, chopped
- 1 can 400 grams of crushed or whole tomatoes (San Marzano if possible)
- 1 can 800 grams of crushed or whole tomatoes (San Marzano if possible)
- 1 pinch sugar
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 10 oz milk (1.25 cups), heated
- salt & pepper
- nutmeg, just a tiny pinch
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan and sauté the onions, garlic, carrot and a pinch of red pepper flakes for 2-3 minutes.
Add the ground beef, season with a hefty pinch of salt, pepper, and oregano. Sauté until cooked and starting to brown. (Be sure to break up the ground beef in the pan so you don't have large chunks of meat in the finished sauce.) Then add the white wine. Cover the pan and let simmer until the wine has evaporated and absorbed.
Add the canned tomatoes and be sure to break up the whole tomatoes in the pan. Season with a hefty pinch of salt, pepper, and some more oregano. Add the chopped fresh basil and a pinch of sugar to balance out the acidity in the tomatoes.
Cook over medium heat until just boiling. Then lower the heat and allow to simmer for 3 hours or more. Stir occasionally, adding a bit of water as needed if the sauce starts to become too thick.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly. Allow the paste to cook until it bubbles a bit, but don't let it brown.
Add the hot milk and continue to stir constantly until the sauce thickens. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, plus a small pinch of nutmeg. If the sauce is too thin, then allow it to cook more to thicken. If it's too thick, add a bit more milk.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F.
Assemble the lasagna in an 8"x8" glass pyrex baking dish. If you have a larger rectangular pyrex, that works, too. Your lasagna will just be thinner.
Start by ladling some sauce in the bottom of the pan. Lay down layers of the lasagna pasta, breaking pieces if you needed to fit the pan. Next layer more sauce on top of the pasta, then bechamel sauce, mozzarella, and shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano. Repeat until the baking dish is filled just under the top so it doesn't bubble over. Top with cheese.
Place a sheet pan under the baking dish. Then bake the lasagna for 30-35 minutes or until a knife can easily be inserted into the center. If the top starts to brown too much, cover with foil until it's finished cooking.