Updated: Jul 11, 2022
When thinking about what dish I wanted to be my first recipe post, it took me all of 3 seconds to land on my mom's beef lasagna. It is the quintessential comfort food and takes me back to family meals around the dinner table.
When I was a kid, it was a really special day when we got my mom's homemade lasagna. She was a working woman with 4 kids and while this lasagna isn't hard to make, it does take some time -- something she didn't always have to spare. So this dish always feels special to me. The story goes that she got the recipe from the wife of someone my dad went to law school with. The recipe has changed a bit since then and it honestly tastes better every time I make it.
As a midwest girl born and raised, it is my go-to dish to make as a drop-off meal (think "thank you," "I'm thinking of you," "sorry for your loss," or "congratulations on your baby!") It freezes and reheats beautifully, so it really is the perfect dish.
This has become one of my husband's favorite meals. He requests it all the time and loves when we have bricks of it in the freezer, especially if I'm not home to cook a fresh meal. Honestly, I think he prefers it when my mom makes it, but that's ok. My mom has been making this since the 1980s and I just started making it on my own a few years ago.
I hope you love this lasagna as much as my family does. Let me know what you think!
*There are some great tips for making ahead and/or saving leftovers in the recipe notes below. Be sure to check them out.
Mom's Hearty Beef Lasagna (Makes ~ 9-12 servings)
1 minced garlic clove
1 small diced medium onion
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 bay leaf
1.5 lbs. ground beef
18 oz. tomato paste
3 C. water
30 oz. ricotta cheese
4 C. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 box (12 oz.) of oven-ready lasagna noodles
Brown beef in a large pan over medium to medium-low heat, breaking up the meat into bits and cook until no longer pink.
Drain grease off meat in a colander or mesh strainer and set aside.
Add onions and some olive oil to the pan from beef and sauté over medium-low heat until soft, about 5 minutes. If onions are beginning to brown, turn heat down.
Stir in garlic and cook an additional minute.
Add beef back into pan with onions and garlic along with the oregano, salt, pepper and tomato paste. Stir everything to start incorporating the tomato paste into the beef. It will be thick.
Add 1 cup of water at a time to the pan and as the water heats up, stir to combine all the ingredients to make a sauce. Continuing adding until you've added all 3 cups.
Add the bay leaf and simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan to avoid spattering, but offset the lid to allow steam to escape and for the sauce to reduce slightly.
Turn off heat to meat sauce and allow to sit and cool slightly.
In a 9x13 high-sided baking dish, add some of the sauce to the bottom of the pan and spread around. Then begin layering the lasagna. (See below for photo gallery of the layering process.)
Put a layer of lasagna noodles down then cover with 1/3 of the beef sauce. If your noodles don't cover the area of the pan perfectly, that's ok. Just break up pieces of noodles and lay them around to cover.
Dollop 1/3 of ricotta all over beef sauce and using the back of a spoon, gently "smoosh" the cheese over the sauce. The cheese does not need to completely cover the sauce.
Cover the ricotta with a layer of mozzarella then start again with noodles, repeating the above steps to make 3 layers, finishing with a healthy layer of mozzarella cheese.
Bake uncovered at 350° for 30 minutes or until the lasagna is hot and bubbly and the cheese has browned to your liking. If the top is browning too much, loosely cover with foil until baking is finished.
Let rest for 10-15 minutes before digging in.
*Recipe notes + Variations*
I highly recommend the "oven ready" lasagna noodles. If you've never used them, you're missing out! I was skeptical of them at first too, but they cut out so much time and mess and make a perfect lasagna. If you can't find them, you can use regular lasagna noodles. I suggest soaking them in hot (not boiling) water on a large baking sheet for 10 minutes. This starts the cooking process for them without making them soggy so they won't overcook in the oven.
Some of the amounts of the ingredients will vary based on your preference and your baking dish. You can use 1.5-1.8lbs of ground beef and any type of ground beef. If you have a higher fat content, you'll definitely want to drain the grease before adding in the onions and garlic. I like ground chuck best.
For both cheeses (ricotta and mozzarella), you can use less than what the ingredient list calls for, but the amounts you have to buy them in (15 oz. container for ricotta and 2 C. bags for mozzarella), you need to get 2 packages regardless.
This is a great dish to make ahead. You can make it and keep it in the refrigerator for a day or two before baking. You will need to add 20 minutes (maybe more) to baking time if you are putting it in the oven while the lasagna is still cold.
You can also freeze this before baking. Use a disposable foil pan and expect 1.5 hours for baking from frozen. I like to use a meat thermometer to know when it is hot on the inside when cooking from frozen. It should be about 165° internally when finished.
If you have leftover lasagna after baking, it still freezes great! Once the pan is cool, put it back in the fridge for several hours until it is congealed and solid. Slice individual portions then wrap tightly in plastic wrap then foil. Place in the freezer on a flat surface (I like using a small cookie sheet) to freeze. Once frozen, throw the individual piece into a labeled zip top bag and have an easy dinner ready to go. Reheat according to the above instructions - you'll want to put in a small, oven-safe dish and cover with foil.