Question: I am new to cooking and would like to start by learning how to make a dish I already eat often, lasagna. I tried looking up how many layers a lasagna should have, but couldn’t find good information. Can you help me out?
How many layers should a lasagna have?
This is a good question. And, if you want to learn how to make the perfect lasagna as you do, it’s also an important one to ask.
If I wanted to make light of this question, I’d tell you that you need at least one! A lasagna without a single sheet of pasta, after all, is no lasagna at all.
But you already know that, and you’re at Home Cook World. We have the best advice than anywhere else on the Internet because we pride ourselves on being the authority on home cooking. So let’s help you get to the meat of it!
How Many Layers for a Lasagna
Most lasagnas have 3 to 5 layers. Unlike many aspects of Italian cooking, lasagna isn’t supposed to have a specific number of layers. Instead, the home cook should use his or her best judgment and keep layering the lasagna until it almost reaches the edge of the pan.
The number of layers for your lasagna will depend largely on (1) the height of your baking pan, (2) the number of people you’re cooking for, and (3) whether you want to have leftovers for the rest of the week.
The more layers your lasagna has, the more servings it will yield.
Cookbook authors seem to agree that, for lasagna to be lasagna, it should consist of 3 or more layers:
“Make 3 or more layers, ending with a sprinkling of Parmesan,” American food journalist and former columnist for the New York Times Mark Bittman instructs in his book, How to Cook Everything, in a recipe titled Classic Lasagna, Bolognese Style.
Bittman’s recipe, which makes enough for 6 servings, calls for fresh pasta, 1½ cups of béchamel sauce, 3 cups of Bolognese sauce, and 1½ cups of grated Parmesan cheese. It assumes that you’re using a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
A lasagna with three-four layers in a rectangular baking dish is all you need to feed a large family for dinner. If you’re cooking for a crowd—and you have the appropriate bakeware for it—you will probably make your lasagna five layers tall.
In a recipe for Classic Bolognese Lasagna With Ragu and Béchamel (Lasagna al Forno) from the Culinary Institute of America’s book The Professional Chef, it says to spread a small amount of béchamel sauce on the pasta sheets, sprinkle with cheese, and repeat the process until you have 5 layers of pasta topped alternately with the meat sauce and the béchamel.
The Culinary Institute of America recipe in question is for 10 servings. It assumes you’re using a half hotel pan, and it requires about twice—maybe even twice and a half—the amount of ingredients as Mark Bittman’s.
(A half hotel pan is 4 inches deep, 12¾ inches long, and 10½ inches wide.)
How to Layer a Lasagna
To make a classic lasagna Bolognese with four layers, follow the guidelines below:
Spread extra virgin olive oil on the bottom and sides of the baking sheet with your hand. This is an important step so that the bottom of the lasagna doesn’t stick (and, consequently, burn).
For the base of the lasagna, spoon a small amount of Bolognese sauce into the bottom of the dish and spread it evenly. Cover with a layer of lasagna sheets, then top with Bolognese sauce, making sure that the sheets are completely covered with it.
Lay the second layer of lasagna sheets, pour béchamel over them, and sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan. Lay the third layer of lasagna sheets and spread Bolognese sauce over them. Then place a fourth and final layer, cover with béchamel and grated Parmesan, drizzle with olive oil, and slide into the preheated oven.
To put it simply:
- Bolognese sauce on the pan
- Lasagne sheet #1 with Bolognese sauce
- Lasagne sheet #2 with béchamel and grated parmesan
- Lasagne sheet #3 with Bolognese sauce
- Lasagne sheet #4 with béchamel and grated parmesan
Some people layer their lasagna differently.
Instead of alternating a layer of Bolognese sauce and a layer of béchamel sauce, they spread the Bolognese sauce on each layer, add béchamel sauce and grated cheese on top, and then repeat the process until they run out of space or ingredients.
If you take this route, the key is to drizzle the béchamel on the Bolognese sauce from a distance—but not try to spread it. If you do, you will make a mess of your lasagna and it won’t turn out as good as it otherwise would have.
How to Boil Lasagna Sheets
Fill a large pot or Dutch oven with water, salt it generously (add 1-2 tablespoons of salt to every 1 gallon of water). Fire up your stove, crank up the burner to high, and wait for the water to reach a rolling boil.
Cook the lasagna sheets briefly, for 3-4 minutes, just enough to soften. Remember that they’ll finish cooking in the oven, and you want to boil them al dente so they still have a bite and hold their shape well.
FIsh out the lasagna sheets from the pot (or carefully pour off the hot water) and plunge them briefly into cold water to stop the cooking process. Once the sheets have cooled, you can remove them from the water, dry them with paper towels and build the lasagna with them.
Hints and Tips for the Perfect Lasagna
Buy high-quality pasta. Lasagna sheets imported from Italy don’t cost marginally more compared to the cheap stuff in the store. But they’re made differently—from durum-wheat semolina flour and local springwater—and make a world of a difference on the dinner table. When in doubt, consult our list of the best pasta brands.
Use a large pot and a big baking dish. Lasagna sheets need a roomy pot to soften quickly and evenly. And the lasagna itself needs space, meaning at least a 9 x 13-inch dish with high walls.
Fresh lasagne sheets cook almost immediately. If you’re using fresh lasagna sheets rather than dry lasagna sheets, adjust the cooking time for the pasta accordingly. Most cookbooks we flipped through recommend a cooking time of only 15 to 30 seconds.
You can add different cheeses to the mix if you want to. From ricotta and mozzarella to aged Asiago and gamey Pecorino Romano, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination (and by what’s sold by the Italian deli in town.)