This meatball lasagna is made with layers of rich tomato sauce, lasagna noodles, mini beef and veal meatballs, mozzarella, and ricotta. Italian comfort food at its most amazing.
Meatball lasagna?! Yep. It’s a sorta playful riff on the Italian comfort food classic with bite-size meatballs standing in for the usual meat sauce. Yet all the cheesy goodness of traditional lasagna remains unchanged. It’s from celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli (and you can take it seriously because, c’mon, look at her last name!) The recipe makes an ample amount, although you won’t have any difficulty using up leftovers. In fact, you may have to break up a fight or two.–Angie Zoobkoff
- Quick Glance
- 1 H, 30 M
- 3 H
- Serves 8 to 10
- For the tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion (9 oz), finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- One (28-ounce) can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, undrained
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn
- For the meatballs
- 12 ounces 85% or 90% lean ground beef, preferably chopped sirloin
- 4 ounces ground veal (or substitute more ground beef)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs or dried bread crumbs, toasted, plus more if needed
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 large egg
- 3 medium garlic cloves, grated
- 1/3 cup mild vegetable oil
- For the pasta
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound dried lasagna sheets
- To assemble
- 1 pound whole-milk mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
- 1 pound whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 3 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Make the sauce
- 1. In a medium skillet set over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and season with 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir in the red pepper flakes and sugar and cook for 2 minutes.
- 2. Add the tomatoes along with their juices and the oregano. Increase the heat to high and continue to cook, stirring occasionally and using a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes, until the sauce is well combined and chunky, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Add the basil leaves and remove from the heat.
- Make the meatballs
- 3. In a large bowl, combine the beef and veal and spread the meat over the bottom of the bowl and up the sides a little. (This helps you distribute the seasonings evenly throughout the meat.) Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Then sprinkle the bread crumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and parsley over the meat and use your hands to mix the ingredients together.
- 4. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and garlic. Drizzle the egg mixture over the meat and use your hands to combine again.
- 5. To test a meatball, form 1 small meatball (about 1 inch in diameter or even smaller). In a small skillet set over high heat, warm a splash of the vegetable oil. When the oil almost begins to smoke, add the test meatball, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, turning as necessary, for 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning and texture. If it seems too wet, add some more bread crumbs to the mixture in the bowl. If it seems too dry, add a splash of water. Adjust the seasoning of the meatball mixture in the bowl as needed. Roll the remaining meat into 1-inch balls. You should have 40 to 50 very small meatballs.
- 6. Line a baking sheet with paper towel. In a large skillet set over medium heat, warm half of the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot but not quite smoking, remove the skillet from the heat and carefully add half the meatballs in a single layer, taking care not to crowd them so they brown evenly. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and brown the meatballs, turning them to brown evenly, until medium-rare, 2 to 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer them to a baking sheet lined with a kitchen towel to drain. Wipe out the skillet and repeat the process with the remaining vegetable oil and meatballs.
- Cook the pasta
- 7. In a large pot over high heat, bring 6 quarts (5.7 l) water to a rolling and season with 1/2 cup salt. The pasta water should taste like seawater. Add the lasagna sheets, stirring with a slotted spoon to make sure they do not clump or stick to the bottom, and cook for 4 minutes. The pasta should be pliable but very firm to the touch. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Separate the lasagna sheets carefully so they don’t stick together.
- 8. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Adjust the oven rack to the center position.
- Assemble the lasagna
- 9. Spoon a thin layer of sauce evenly over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-cm) baking pan. Arrange a layer of pasta sheets over the sauce. Sprinkle 1/4 of the mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pasta and then add another thin layer of sauce (about 3/4 cup). Dot the surface with about 1/3 of the meatballs, spacing them evenly. Repeat the layering process 2 more times. Add a final layer of pasta and top it with the remaining sauce and cheese.
- 10. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 450°F (230°C) and remove the foil. Continue to bake until the top of the lasagna browns slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it cool for 15 minutes before serving. And actually, you may want to let it in the fridge overnight as the flavors and textures meld and become even lovelier. (Don’t believe us? See what our recipe testers say below.)