Comfort food lovers, meet your new favorite dish! With its layers of tender meatballs, gooey mozzarella and creamy ricotta tucked in between delicate pasta noodles, this meatball lasagna is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. For one unforgettable meal, gather good company and serve this meatball lasagna with a loaf of crusty garlic bread and a bottle of chianti.
1cupsoft bread crumbstorn from white sandwich bread, no crust (see note)
1cupheavy cream or milk
6garlic clovesminced or grated
1cupfreshly grated Parmesanusing the small holes of a box grater
1cupgrated onionusing the large holes of a box grater
½cupchopped fresh parsley
1poundground beefpreferably 80 percent lean and 20 percent fat
1pounddried lasagna noodles
1cupfreshly grated Parmesan
½cupfresh chopped basil
½teaspoonground nutmegpreferably freshly grated
Salt and pepper
5cupsshredded mozzarellasee note
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish, optional
Homemade Tomato Sauce
Before starting on our meatballs, we make our sauce, so it can get a head start simmering. Heat olive or canola oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until soft, about five to eight minutes. Add the garlic cloves and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Stir in the tomato paste and chianti. Cook until the chianti is nearly fully reduced.
Pour in the crushed tomatoes with the juice. Tie the thyme, rosemary and oregano together with kitchen twine. Add the bundled herbs with bay leaves and stir in salt and pepper. Mostly cover, leaving a crack open, and bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally and keep the heat as low as possible to maintain a simmer.
Now we start on the meatballs. In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs and heavy cream or milk. Allow the bread crumbs to soak as you prepare the other ingredients.
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the garlic cloves, Parmesan, onion, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and anchovy paste if using. Drain the bread crumbs in a fine-mesh sieve. Stir in the bread crumbs.
Add the ground beef and pork. Using a gentle touch, stir with a wooden spoon to form one cohesive mixture. You could even use your hands to mix the ingredients together. Mix just until combined.
Lightly oil your hands and form into balls slightly larger than the size of a golf ball. Drop directly into the simmering sauce. Simmer on low to medium-low heat until cooked through, about two to three hours, stirring occasionally. Try to be as gentle as possible when stirring. Alternatively, you could bake the meatballs in a 450-degree oven for 15 minutes or fry in a skillet before simmering. For more details on those instructions, see notes for link.
After simmering, stir in the freshly chopped basil, remove the other herbs and turn off heat.
For Meatball Lasagna
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Using tongs, remove each lasagna noodle and place on lightly greased parchment paper. This prevents the noodles from clumping together.
Mix together ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, basil and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Spread ½ cup tomato sauce from meatballs on bottom of a greased lasagna pan or a deep-dish 9-inch-by-13-inch-by-3-inch pan. Place noodles on top to cover the bottom of the pan. If necessary, you can cut a noodle to fill a small space if they don't span over the entire pan. Spread ½ of the ricotta mixture on top of the noodles and then 1 ½ cups of shredded mozzarella. Top with 2 cups crumbled meatballs and 1 cup sauce. Place another layer of lasagna noodles on top. Repeat the ricotta, mozzarella, meatball and sauce filling. Place another layer of lasagna noodles on top. This is the final layer of lasagna noodles. Spread 2 cups of crumbled meatballs on that final noodle layer and 2 cups of sauce on top of the meatballs. Make sure the noodles are fully covered in sauce. Top the meatballs and sauce with 2 cups shredded mozzarella. Cover with foil, trying not to let the foil touch the cheese.
Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove the foil. Bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to sit in room temperature for 15-20 minutes. This step is crucial to allow the filling to set, so don't skip it. Once the lasagna sits and the filling sets, cut into squares and serve. Enjoy!
If you don't have time to make the tomato sauce and meatballs from scratch, you can substitute store-bought sauce and meatballs.
Do not use the fresh mozzarella stored in water. It's too wet and can make lasagna soupy. Just get a block of mozzarella and shred it. Shredding it yourself is better than buying a bag of shredded mozzarella because it melts better.
Do not use canned Parmesan. It doesn't melt properly and will leave you with a grainy texture.