Italian Lamb Lasagna, a delicious layered pasta dish of flavorful lamb ragù and creamy béchamel sauce, is so good that it will be featured as the main course this Easter Sunday. A savory Italian Easter pie called Pizza Gaina will start the happy celebration.
For centuries Easter has been a feast day and the most popular main course in Italy, where the holiday is known as Pasqua, has traditionally been lamb, most often grilled or roasted with garlic, rosemary and olive oil. While delicious, I wanted to prepare something different this year.
A pasta course is also served on Easter but we are eating lighter now. With that in mind, I decided to combine two Italian traditions, pasta and lamb, and just make lamb lasagna. Lighter than lasagna made with lots of mozzarella, ricotta, and a thick Bolognese sauce, the Italian lamb lasagna I’m making will make a delicious Easter lunch.
Recipe serves 4, adjust accordingly
- 1 lb. ground lamb
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil plus additional 2 Tbsp.
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 c. red wine
- 1 c. beef stock
- 2 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
- 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
- 1 Tbsp. dried basil
- l large bay leaf
- a couple sprigs of fresh thyme
- a pinch of red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper, to taste
- a pinch of sugar, to adjust the acidity of the tomatoes, if necessary
Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the lamb and season with salt. Cook until brown, about 5 min., stirring and breaking the lamb up into small pieces. Remove the lamb to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. In the meantime, put the celery, carrots and onions into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Drain the lamb fat from the pot and add the additional 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and the butter. Add the vegetables and a pinch of salt and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the red wine and scrape the brown bits off the bottom. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half then add the stock.
Puree 1 can of the tomatoes and add to the pot. Squash the other can of tomatoes with your hands until broken down then add to the pot. Add all the seasonings and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add the lamb back to the pot and let simmer until the sauce is the consistency you desire. Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
- 2 1/4 c. milk
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 3 Tbsp. flour (I used Wondra)
- 4 Tbsp. grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
- a pinch of nutmeg
- salt and ground white pepper to taste
In a saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. Slowly whisk in the flour, making sure any lumps dissolve. Pour in the milk a little at a time and continue to whisk until it starts to thicken. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and cheese. Whisk until the cheese is melted and the béchamel thickens. If it gets too thick, add a little more milk.
Assemble the lasagna:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- 1 8 oz. box of oven ready lasagna (I used Ronzoni)
- ragù, recipe above
- béchamel sauce, recipe above
- 4 Tbsp. of grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese
Start with a layer of ragù in the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch lasagna pan then place 3 pieces of pasta on top. Add a layer of ragù topped with a layer of béchamel. Repeat with pasta, ragù and béchamel two more times. Finish with the remaining 3 pieces of pasta. Spread the remaining béchamel sauce completely over the pasta, then sprinkle with the cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake until the top is golden about 10 minutes. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes before cutting so the lasagna firms up.
While the lasagna is baking, I’ll serve a small portion of an Italian Easter Pie, Pizza Gaina, you can find the recipe here. Similar to a quiche, they go by many names, Tarta Pascualina, Pizza Rustica, Pizza Chena, or Pizza Gaina and are made with ricotta cheese and sautéed greens or a variety of cheeses and cured meats. It is one of my husband’s favorite Italian Easter dishes that his mother always prepared. Served to celebrate the end of lent, it can be a meal all by itself.
- Lamb fat can have a strong taste, so I like to drain the fat after browning, and replace it with a mixture of olive oil and butter.
- I like to use no boil lasagna in place of the traditional boxed noodles that you pre-boil, I find that they are thinner, more tender and I think much like homemade. Of course, you also have the option to use fresh sheets of pasta for the recipe.
- The lasagna can be created ahead of time and not baked. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When ready to cook, remove the plastic wrap, cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes, remove foil and bake 10 minutes to brown.
- If frozen, bake the lasagna for about an hour and a half, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
- You can also bake the lasagna a day ahead. Reheat covered at 400 degrees for 30 to 45 until hot and bubbly.
- If you want to serve ragù on the side with the lasagna, add an additional can of tomatoes to the ragù recipe.
I served the lamb lasagna to friends over the weekend and everyone enjoyed it. My husband said he now prefers the lasagna made with béchamel over one that is made with ricotta and mozzarella, saying it is much lighter. When I prepare the lamb lasagna for our Easter lunch, I’ll be serving a salad made with fresh spring peas and asparagus topped with sliced hard boiled eggs. Garlic bread and a good bottle of red wine and we will be happy. Whether you decide to prepare the lamb lasagna for your Easter meal or serve it for a weekend dinner during the year, I do hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.