Chef’s Recipe: Grandma Guarnaschelli’s Lasagna by Chef Guarnaschelli (2024)

“Like every Italian-American,” chef Alex Guarnaschelli says, “I had two grandmothers who both interpreted lasagna in their own special way.” Her paternal grandmother somehow improved on the already amazing texture of lasagna by adding little meatballs, which she folded into the layers of the lasagna as she built the dish. “Those little meatballs are a bite that I remember vividly from childhood,” says Guarnaschelli.

She first wrote about this clever technique in her cookbook, The Home Cook, noting, “When making classic lasagna bolognese, the ground beef and tomato work beautifully together, but there is something about getting a bite of beef in a little meatball and then the burst of flavor from the tomato sauce that makes this dish even more delicious."

Here, the fast-rising celebrity chef who is host of her own Food Network show, Supermarket Stakeout, and a regular judge on Chopped, shares the cherished family recipe with La Cucina Italiana.

Chef’s Recipe: Grandma Guarnaschelli’s Lasagna by Chef Guarnaschelli (1)

Grandma Guarnaschelli’s Lasagna by Chef Alex Guarnaschelli

Serves: 8-10


Kosher salt
1 pound dried lasagna sheets
1 pound whole-milk mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 pound whole-milk ricotta cheese
3 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For the tomato sauce:

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sugar
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves

For the meatballs:

12 ounces 90% lean ground beef, preferably chopped sirloin
4 ounces ground veal
kosher salt
½ cup panko bread crumbs, toasted, plus more if need
¾ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 large egg
3 medium garlic cloves, grated
1/3 cup canola oil


1. Make the sauce: In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and season with 1 tablespoon salt. Stir in the redpepper flakes and sugar, and cook for about 2 minutes. Then add thetomatoes, with their juices, and the oregano. Cook for a few minutes overhigh heat, stirring from time to time. Taste for seasoning, add the basil leaves,ad remove from the heat.

2. Make the meatballs: put the beef and veal in a large bowl and spread the meat all over the bottom of the bowl and up the sides a little. (This will helpyou to distribute the seasonings evenly through the meat.) Sprinkle with 2teaspoons salt. Then sprinkle the bread crumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and parsley all over the meat and use your hands to mix the ingredients together. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and garlic. Drizzle the mixture over the meat. Mix the meat thoroughly with your hands.

3. Test a meatball: Form 1 small meatball (about 1 inch in diameter) with yourhands. Heat a splash of the canola oil in a small skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, ass the meatball, lower the heat, and cook it over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning and texture. If itseems too wet, add some more bread crumbs to the mixture in the bowl. If itis too dry, add a splash of water. Adjust the seasoning of the mixture in the bowl as needed. Roll the remaining meat into balls; you should have about 20 very small meatballs.

4. Cook the meatballs: Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add half ofthe remaining canola oil. When the oil begins to smoke lightly, remove the pan from the heat and add half of the meatballs in a single layer, spreading them apart somewhat so they have a chance to brown instead of steaming.Return the pan to high heat and brown the meatballs, turning them as theybrown all around, 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 canola oil and meatballs.

5. Cook the pasta: Bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot over high heat and season with ½ cup salt. The pasta water should taste like sea water. 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. Drain ina colander, rinse under cold water, and drain again. The pasta should still be very firm to the touch. Separate the sheets carefully so they don’t stick together.

6. Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

7. Assemble the lasagna: Spoon a thin layer of the sauce over the bottom of a 9 x13-inch baking pan. Arrange a layer of pasta sheets over the sauce. Sprinkle one fourth of the mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pasta, and then add another thin layer of sauce. Dot the surface with about one-third of themeatballs, spacing them evenly. Repeat the layering process to more time. Adda final layer of pasta and top it with the remaining sauce and cheese.

8. Bake the lasagna: Cover the dish tightly with foil and put it in the center of the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Then raise the oven temperature to 450˚F and removethe foil. Bake the lasagna until the top browns slightly, 10 to 15 minutes.Remove the lasagna from the oven and allow it to cool for 15 minutes or sobefore serving.

Buon appetito!

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