This is a traditional, hearty beef lasagna baked with four types of cheese – mozzarella, cottage, ricotta and parmesan, and is a gloriously thick, chunky and cheesy mess of meaty tomato bolognese sauce and pasta.
I have to say that I do not always make a pretty looking lasagna. Not even close to a tidy one, by a mile. But if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it is that a lip-smacking, sumptuously delicious one will win you raves, compliments and respect (especially from those who might think you’re not much of a cook … trust me, I’ve been there). And in the end, that’s what matters most, don’t you agree? You’re 100 percent with me on this, right?
Because the moment there’s a dish of lasagna at the table, people are going to gleefully dive into that gloriously thick, chunky and cheesy mess of meaty tomato bolognese sauce and pasta. So they’re going to make a bigger mess out of a little mess anyway! I have found that hardly anyone notices if you’ve had three, four or more layers exquisitely stacked up and looking like a restaurant-worthy dish. Okay, a few might notice and you’ll receive deserving compliments, which are always appreciated and great ego boosters. But what’s really going to impress them is just how spectacularly delicious your lasagna is. And I have found just the recipe to help you do that!
This is a traditional lasagna baked with a freshly prepared beef bolognese sauce and four types of cheese. Yes! F-O-U-R. FOUR. They are – mozzarella, cottage, ricotta and Parmesan. If you’re thinking this is going to be way over-cheesy, I can only say that it really does all come together beautifully with the meaty bolognese sauce and pasta, when it’s all good and done.
To start, a good lasagna needs to begin with a great meat or bolognese sauce. It really does make or break the dish. Next, it’s really important to get the right types of cheese, as the end result in the lasagna’s flavour can be quite different. Mozzarella and cottage (or ricotta) cheese are a must, with cottage and ricotta often used interchangeably. I like having both. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese in small amounts are sometimes included in the cheese filling, and almost usually used to garnish the top of a baked lasagna.
Finally, if you love fresh basil as I do (basil and tomatoes pair excellently, like two peas in a pod), top your lasagna with generous sprinkles of roughly chopped fresh basil. You’ll discover what a wonderful dimension fresh basil adds to the flavour of any lasagna!
Classic Four Cheeses Beef Lasagna
For the Bolognese Sauce:
- 3 tbsp olive oil (plus 1 tbsp, to grease baking dish)
- 12 oz lean ground beef
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3/4 - 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 - 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
- 1 - 2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more for added heat)
- 2 tsp dried parsley flakes
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 1 can whole plum tomatoes in sauce, undrained and chopped
- 1 can tomato sauce (1 can = 14 1/2 oz)
- 3/4 - 1 can tomato paste (1 can = 6 oz)
- 2 - 3 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 litre hot water
For the Cheese Filling:
- 8 oz mozzarella cheese divided equally
- 8 oz cottage cheese
- 4 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 egg lightly beaten
- 1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley chopped
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese grated
- 8 - 10 no-boil lasagna noodles (read Recipe Notes below)
For Garnishing (Optional):
- A handful fresh basil leaves roughly chopped
- Some finely grated Parmesan cheese
For the Bolognese Sauce:
- Heat oil in a deep pot or pan over medium fire. Add onions and garlic, sauté until fragrant. Add ground beef and stir fry till lightly brown. Break up the larger chunks of beef into smaller bits as it cooks.
- Add salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, parsley, oregano, basil, chopped tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar and hot water. Stir until well mixed.
- Cover pot with lid and let simmer over low to medium heat for 1 hour (or longer). Stir occasionally, and if sauce gets too thick or dry, add more water. You want to leave the sauce with enough water content (but not too runny) as the water will later be absorbed by the no-bake lasagna noodles as it bakes in the oven. When done, turn off heat and set aside the sauce.
- Pre-heat oven to 190 deg C (375 deg F). You may wish to place a piece of aluminium foil on a rack underneath the rack on which you will be placing the dish, to catch any spillover juices as the lasagna bakes.
For the Cheese Filling:
- Combine half of the mozzarella cheese (4 oz), cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, beaten egg, black pepper, freshly chopped parsley, and Parmesan cheese in a mixing bowl. Stir to mix well.
Putting the Dish Together:
- Grease the base and sides of an 8 x 8 x 3-inch baking pan or dish (or a suitable lasagna pan with a 2- to 3-inch height) with olive oil or cooking spray.
- Start with a layer of bolognese sauce on the bottom, followed by a layer of cheese filling (do not spread the cheese with spatula. Just drop dollops all over the bolognese sauce). Place lasagna noodles over the cheese layer, overlapping each other by 1 cm (1/2 an inch). Break the noodles into smaller pieces, where required, to fit corners or edges of the pan, but maintain the overlapping edges.
- Repeat the layering again - meat sauce, cheese filling, lasagna noodles - until you end up with your last layer of meat sauce on top of the last layer of lasagna noodles. Sprinkle the remaining half of the mozzarella cheese (4 oz) all over the meat sauce.
- Cover the dish with aluminium foil. If possible, let the dish sit for at least 10 to 15 minutes to allow the no-bake lasagna noodles to absorb the liquids. Bake for about 40 minutes, then uncover and bake for the last 15 to 20 minutes until cheese has melted.
- Remove from oven when baking is finished. Let the dish sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Cut into desired serving portions, or serve the whole dish if prefered. Sprinkle all over the top of with finely grated Parmesan cheese and freshly chopped basil leaves, and serve.