Make Ahead

Birthday Lasagna

February  4, 2013
38 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours 50 minutes
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

This meat lasagna doesn't have any ricotta -- instead, it employs a bechamel for creaminess. Use fresh pasta if you can find it! —Merrill Stubbs

What You'll Need
  • Lasagna
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • Salt
  • Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 package no-boil (or the equivalent in fresh) lasagna sheets
  • 3/4 cup shredded fresh mozzarella
  • Bolognese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
  • Salt
  • 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
  1. To make the bolognese, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy saucepan. Add the ground beef, along with a couple pinches of salt. Brown the meat well and remove it to a bowl using a slotted spoon.
  2. Add the carrot and onion to the pan and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste and cook for one more minute. Stir in the browned meat.
  3. Stir in the flour and then the red wine, if using. Add the tomatoes, stock and oregano and stir well to combine. Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cover the pan and lower the heat so that the sauce is just simmering. Cook until the meat is tender and the flavors have melded, at least half an hour and up to an hour and a half. (Add more stock or water if the sauce starts to look dry.)
  4. While the sauce is cooking, make the bechamel. In a medium heavy saucepan melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour, and once the mixture starts to bubble cook for another 2 minutes, whisking frequently. Don't let the mixture brown.
  5. Whisk in the milk slowly and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and keep whisking until the sauce turns thick and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the bechamel from the heat, cover and set aside.
  6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. To assemble the lasagna, spread a couple of tablespoons of the bolognese in the bottom of an 8-by-8-inch square baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna noodles, overlapping them slightly if necessary. Spread 1/3 of the bechamel evenly over the noodles, and then spread 1/4 of the remaining bolognese over that. Add another layer of noodles.
  7. Repeat until you have used all of the bechamel. Add a final layer of noodles and spread the remaining bolognese over the top. Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top of the lasagna. Cover the lasagna with a sheet of parchment paper and then wrap the dish tightly in aluminum foil. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the noodles are just tender (test them by piercing the lasagna with a sharp knife).
  8. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees and remove the foil and the parchment. Return the lasagna to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, until deeply browned and bubbling. Let the lasagna cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • James Galbraith
    James Galbraith
  • Dee Schultz Canitano
    Dee Schultz Canitano
  • elamb
  • Lauren Lever
    Lauren Lever
  • Laura Benson
    Laura Benson

88 Reviews

SDL January 11, 2024
Great dinner that came together relatively easily. This was my first attempt at this recipe and also my first time successfully making a lasagna. Well received by my family, will be doing again. I prepped all the way through until the last 15 minutes/temp increase, finished cooking after evening activities - was fantastic. I added nutmeg to the Bolognese sauce because I misread recipe, later added to bechamel - was not overpowering and added a nice savory note
whmcdevitt July 4, 2023
But for Americans that only know Lasagna with Ricotta and Mozzarella. I have to say it's a step in the right direction. I've made this and it happens to be very good. 👍🏻
James G. July 4, 2023
Lasagne with mozzarella? Instead of ricotta? To my knowledge and experience neither are ever used in Lasagne. Bechamel, of course, is a standard.
Dee S. October 30, 2022
My family loved this! It’s my new favorite preparation for lasagna. To be fair, I used my own homemade bolognese sauce made with a more traditional preparation. This lasagna is far more appealing to me than the tomato-based versions I’ve always made before, using broken up meatballs and sausage with ricotta.

I always tweak recipes to suit my preferences. For the béchamel, I added salt and pepper, some dried basil and oregano, with a little finely shredded Piave. I also used less fresh mozzarella than called for. It didn’t need it. I layered a little on each layer with parmigiana reggiano in each layer.

This preparation is so rich and next time I’ll double it if I have enough leftover bolognese. Buon appetito!
B99 July 25, 2021
Great recipe! This was my first attempt to make bechamel sauce and I really like it for lasagna versus ricotta. I made slightly more bechamel than the recipe - 4 TB each of butter and flour and 2 cups of milk. I may have under seasoned, forgetting that no boil pasta would not have been in salted water. Will adjust next time. Thanks to Angie for the tip to blot water before baking the last 10 minutes so that the top actually browns.
Angie December 17, 2021
I was just making this again tonight and while it’s in the oven for the final 10 I just scrolled down and saw your comment thanking me at the very top! That tickled me — so glad it worked for you too!
elamb February 3, 2021
This lasagna did not turn out good for me. I'm not sure if there was a mistake on my end but, the sauce was all meat and no red sauce at all. We had to pour canned sauce over the finished product :(
Phil Z. February 17, 2021
Actually traditional bolognese is a Ragout without any tomatos but rather meat stock, but u can freely adjust the bolognese and add canned or fresh tomatos to have a bolognese with Tomate sauce. I like to use canned tomatoes for my bolognese aswell, then u have less meat and more tomatoish bolognese. U can freely adjust the amount of tomatoes and if it's too much red tomato sauce, just give it more time to reduce the sauce. If its too liquid it aint good as well.

Lauren L. November 30, 2020
This lasagna is delicious. No other lasagna recipe matters.
Laura B. August 30, 2020
I love this recipe! I’ve made it a number of times and it always comes out perfect. I’ve noticed a number of people say it’s bland, but if every component is seasoned correctly, I assure you it’s not! I do add a little shredded mozzarella in the layers and some sautéed spinach to make up for the add-on :) My husband and toddler always have seconds when it’s birthday lasagna night!
Laura B. August 30, 2020
I love this recipe! I’ve made it a number of times and it always comes out perfect. I’ve noticed a number of people say it’s bland, but if every component is seasoned correctly, I assure you it’s not! I do add a little shredded mozzarella in the layers and some sautéed spinach to make up for the add-on :) My husband and toddler always have seconds when it’s birthday lasagna night!
jonwarren January 17, 2020
Simple. Perfect.
The P. February 10, 2019
My birthday happens to be...tomorrow. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Laura December 10, 2018
Made this for a potluck yesterday and it was a huge hit! I prepped everything that morning, including simmering the bolognese for the full hour and a half, and kept the assembled lasagna in my fridge until I was ready to bake it that evening. Super convenient and everyone loved it!
ali February 15, 2018
Just want to say, I've been making this for the past year or so. I end up adding more salt to the béchamel and the meat sauce, but it is a favorite at our house! Thanks for the great recipe!
Rhonda35 November 22, 2017
This was great, Merrill!
Nanda G. March 7, 2017
I thought this was nice but more in the "has potential" department, not perfection for us. For one thing, it was pretty bland as is, even with winging it on the nutmeg and salt bechamel ingredients (since she never indicates those within the recipe). Next time, I will use more garlic, salt, and herbs in the sauce, much more nutmeg and more salt in the bechamel, and then more than 3/4 cup mozzarella on the top. I also used fresh pasta which was too chewy, so will probably use dry no-boil next time. And the tip about soaking the liquid with a paper towel before browning is key! Pools of water were there for me upon uncovering. Overall, it definitely has potential but has not supplanted my other lasagna recipes.
Lori O. February 3, 2017
This recipe is perfection! It is super easy and quick to assemble. It is as good as any lasagna I've made that took hours and hours. I especially love that it has a wonderful texture - not soupy and messy like some lasagnas. I couldn't find fresh lasagna sheets, so instead used the "ready to bake" lasagna noodles from the supermarket. It was delicious!
Amynicole21 January 22, 2017
I seriously love this lasagna--delicious and so easy. We call it "Sunday Lasagna" because we make it nearly every Sunday !
I do skip the "brown meat first then remove with a slotted spoon" step.
I sauté the onion and carrot then add the meat and brown along with the veg. Saves a step and a bowl!
Angie December 11, 2016
I will never make lasagna another way after trying this. This recipe is divine.

I made a couple of personal preference tweaks to the bolognese (added a bit of anchovy paste and seasonings to taste) and I found it needed a LOT more time to cook down to the consistency I prefer. But once it did, followed the recipe exactly except I doubled the bechamel and used all of it (so that leftovers would still have some joy).

I was also lucky enough to find fresh pasta sheets at a local deli and gave them a quick dip in boiling water (thanks to the commenter who shared her experience with them).

I was puzzled about how you shred fresh mozzarella until I googled it -- I froze it for about an hour and then used the grater attachment on my food processor. Easy peasy.

But once you take the foil and parchment off, you may find pools of water around the top of your lasagna from the fresh mozzarella (high moisture content). I used wadded up paper towel to soak up the little pools of water so the top could brown effectively without overcooking the rest of the meal.

Everything came out perfect. So pleased!
SMSF August 17, 2017
Great suggestion on the paper towel for the moisture. I found that I didn't have that problem with the cheese I used, but will keep that in mind for other/future needs!

As for shredding fresh mozzarella, I just used my hands. Sometimes they're the perfect tool for the job : )
swimmeret January 17, 2018
rendell June 12, 2016
Hi Merrill...can this be assembled and then refrigerated overnight to cook the next day?
hoya21221 February 15, 2016
Made this for Valentine's Day and it was big hit. One tip is the fresh lasagna sheets I bought were on the thicker side so the lasagna was a bit chewy. I would consider a quick dip in some boiling water before baking the next time! Thanks Merrill for the great recipe!