Merrill's baby Clara is finally old enough to eat solid foods. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, Merrill steps into the fray.

Today: Lasagna to celebrate Clara's first birthday!

Clara's birthday lasagna  

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Clara had her first taste of lasagna shortly after Christmas, much to her (and our) delight. She mashed hunks of the tomatoey, cheesy pasta into her mouth, getting nearly as much on the floor as she managed to swallow. I've made lasagna several times since, with equal success -- apparently, she's meat/veggie agnostic.

Clara's birthday lasagna

In fact, Clara enjoys lasagna so much I decided to make it for her first birthday party. We invited her grandparents over to celebrate, and they liked it too. Below is my go-to lasagna recipe, the kind I used to have all the time when I lived in Italy for a semester in college: deeply colored, with no ricotta -- just bolognese, pasta (fresh if you can find it), creamy bechamel and a little mozzarella. Kid-friendly, grandparent-approved.

Birthday Lasagna

Birthday Lasagna

Serves 6


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
Splash red wine? (optional)
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes, with their juices
1 cup beef stock or water
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano


3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 package no-boil (or fresh) lasagna sheets
3/4 cup shredded fresh mozzarella

To see the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

And here are some birthday desserts to go with your lasagna:

Lemon Birthday Cake  Chocolate Dump-It Cake  One-Ingredient Ice Cream

Lemon Birthday Cake

Chocolate Dump-It Cake

One-Ingredient Ice Cream

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Yessica
  • fgressette
  • Charlotte Woodhouse
    Charlotte Woodhouse
  • Elycooks
  • Veronica S
    Veronica S
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


Yessica March 26, 2013
I made this and it will forever stay in rotation at our house. My 18 year old son almost ate the entire dish! it makes a mama feel good when that happens.
fgressette February 19, 2013
I made this for a family dinner to celebrate my mom's 80th birthday, and we all loved it. Happy birthdays, all around.
Charlotte W. February 10, 2013
When do you add the meat back in? You take it out in step 1. then it's mentioned again in step 3.
Merrill S. February 10, 2013
Thank you for catching that! Just made the correction -- you add the meat back to the pot after the tomato paste.
Elycooks February 7, 2013
Teeth! When did teeth happen?...I feel I've missed a chapter. And happy birthday Clara.
Merrill S. February 10, 2013
Thank you! She actually started to get teeth early -- around 7 months. She's got 8 now!
Veronica S. February 7, 2013
As one of Clara's grandmothers, I have to say that the STAR of the show ate like a pro! And needless to say we ALL loved the Lasagna, almost as much as we love Clara and her fabulous parents!
Anna F. February 7, 2013
she has gotten SOSOSOSO big!!!! can't believe she is already one year old! miss you guys!
Merrill S. February 10, 2013
Miss you too!
healthierkitchen February 6, 2013
Happy birthday Clara! Love the bib/apron - is there a clever name for such a thing?
Merrill S. February 6, 2013
Think they're usually called smocks...Indispensable!
Yessica February 6, 2013
This looks fantastic!! Married to a wonderful Italian man I have been learning how to make his favorites...the authentic way. Because if not authentic and good, why bother? I shall try this recipe this weekend. Yummm... Happy Birthday to the little one!
Merrill S. February 6, 2013
Thank you!
Muse February 6, 2013
What a little cutie Clara is...Happy birthday sweetheart! Love your recipe by the way.
boulangere February 6, 2013
It is such a joy to see her growing into her own little person!
drbabs February 5, 2013
What a sweetie! Happy birthday, Clara!
Dina M. February 5, 2013
happy birthday to the budding foodie! absolutely delicious--made it today. i usually make a ricotta based lasagna, and this way better--a recipe loved by ages 1-40something!!
Merrill S. February 6, 2013
So glad you liked it!
phyllis February 5, 2013
Yikes. Time passes quickly. Happy birthday, Clara!! My go-to lasagna recipe is almost identical to yours. Delicious, easy and loved by all.
adamnsvetcooking February 5, 2013
Happy Birthday Clara!
Kitchen B. February 5, 2013
a year already? What a great take on birthday cake! Happy birthday Clara!
Merrill S. February 5, 2013
Thanks, all!
Kenzi W. February 5, 2013
I fist-pumped when I tasted Merrill's lasagna, too.
amysarah February 5, 2013
Happy 1st to Clara! This especially resonates with me - my gorgeous blonde baby has a related name (Claire) and her traditional b'day dinner has long been the same type of lasagna, which she fell in love with as a child during a summer in Italy. Only difference is she's now a college senior (!!) - and I can't convince her to wear an adorable smock. Congrats, and I hope your girl brings you as much joy as mine has!
fiveandspice February 5, 2013
My heart is in a puddle on the floor! :) Happy birthday Clara!
ChefJune February 5, 2013
What a gorgeous lasagna. What a beautiful child!! and how lucky is she to have a great cook for a mom? (I know, because I had one of those myself.)
Happy Birthday Clara.