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Julia Turshen’s “A Nice Lasagna”

5 stars based on 23 votes

Lasagna

This lasagna comes from Julia Turshen’s lovely cookbook, Small Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs (Chronicle Books, 2016). Not only is it the simplest lasagna I’ve ever made, it’s also the lightest and most elegant. Julia writes that there are three “small victories” with the recipe. The first is using a food processor to make an easy homemade pasta dough (although I would argue that an even bigger victory is that you can replace the homemade pasta with store-bought no-boil lasagna noodles, which I did 😉). The second small victory is skipping both the American tradition of using ricotta and the Italian tradition of adding béchamel. Instead, Julia adds crème fraîche directly to the tomato sauce, which lends the requisite creaminess that all great lasagnas have, but with zero effort. (I LOVED this cheat. The sauce was so delicious, I had to stop myself from sneaking spoonfuls while assembling the lasagna, lest I run short.) Finally, the third small victory is a high sauce-to-pasta ratio, which eliminates the step of having to cook the noodles before assembling the lasagna — and also allows the noodles to absorb the flavor of the sauce as they cook in the pan.

ingredients

Begin with the sauce. In a large bowl, crush the tomatoes with your hands.

whole-tomatoes

Julia suggests this as a good job for kids — I agree, although it’s messy so you might want to put the bowl in the sink.

crushed-tomatoes

In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute.

garlic-and-olive-oil

Add the tomatoes and salt and bring to a boil.

tomatoes-1

Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it’s slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.

tomatoes-2

Mix in the crème fraîche.

adding-creme-fraiche

Season to taste with salt and set aside.

finished-sauce

Next, assemble the lasagna. Ladle a thin layer of sauce onto the bottom of a baking dish. Spread the sauce to cover the surface of the dish, then add a layer of pasta over top.

building-lasagna-1

Spoon over just enough tomato sauce to cover the pasta and then scatter over some of the Parmesan, mozzarella, and basil.

building-lasagna-2

Repeat the layering process until you’ve used up all of your components, ending with sauce and cheese (not naked pasta or basil, both of which would burn if exposed).

building-lasagna-3

Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until it’s nicely browned and the edges are bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.

baked-lasagna

Let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow the pasta fully absorb all of the bubbling sauce, so you don’t end up with soupy slices.

Lasagna-1

Julia Turshen's Lasagna

Servings: 6-8
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour 20 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Ingredients

For the Sauce

  • Two 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup crème fraîche

For the Pasta Dough (see note)

  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

For Assembling

  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 cup coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese
  • 2 large handfuls fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large

Instructions

For the Sauce

  1. In a large bowl, crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job—it’s a very good one for children) until they are in bite-size pieces.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and 1 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.
  3. Whisk the crème fraîche into the sauce and season to taste with salt. Set the sauce aside to cool to room temperature while you conquer the pasta.

For the Pasta (See note about using store-bought noodles)

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, eggs and salt and run the machine until a firm ball of dough forms around the blade, cleans the side of the processor bowl, and doesn’t stick to your fingers when you touch it. If the dough is too dry, add a little water, 1 tsp at a time, until the dough comes together. If, on the other hand, it’s sticky when you touch it, add a little flour, 1 tsp at a time, until the dough comes together. (The exact amount of moisture in the dough depends on how you measured your flour, how large your eggs are, even the humidity in the air.) Once your dough is good to go, dust it lightly with flour and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and have more parchment paper at hand.
  3. Cut the rested dough into six pieces. Working with one piece at a time (keep the rest covered with plastic), lightly dust the dough with flour and press it down with the heel of your hand. Run the dough through your pasta machine, starting on the widest setting and working your way through the narrower settings, rolling it through each setting twice, until it is very thin but not too thin. I usually stop at 6, but your machine might be different from mine, so I’ll just say that the final pasta should be the thickness of an envelope—which is to say thin, but not at all transparent. You don’t want it to disappear into the finished lasagna. If the dough sticks during the rolling, simply dust it with a little flour. Lay the rolled-out pasta on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough, keeping the rolled pieces separated with parchment paper.

For the Lasagna

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  2. Ladle a thin layer of room-temperature sauce onto the bottom of a 9-by-13-in baking dish. Spread the sauce with a spoon to cover the surface of the dish. Add a layer of pasta (brush off any excess flour), cutting the pasta and arranging it as needed to form an even single layer. Spoon over just enough tomato sauce to cover the pasta and then scatter over some of the Parmesan, mozzarella, and basil. Repeat the layering process until you’ve used up all of your components, ending with sauce and cheese (not naked pasta or basil, both of which would burn if exposed).
  3. Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until it’s gorgeously browned and the edges are bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. Let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, just like you would a steak, before slicing and serving. This lets the pasta fully absorb all of the bubbling sauce, so you don’t end up with soupy slices.
  4. Note: Feel free to skip the homemade pasta and use 12 store-bought no-boil lasagna noodles (that's what I did and it worked beautifully). The time given for this recipe was calculated using the store-bought noodles.
  5. Note: My only changes to the recipe, other than using no-boil lasagna noodles, were to increase the mozzarella to 1-1/2 cups and to sprinkle fresh basil over top before serving.

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (8 servings)
  • Calories: 390
  • Fat: 20g
  • Saturated fat: 9g
  • Carbohydrates: 37g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Fiber: 5g
  • Protein: 17g
  • Sodium: 711mg
  • Cholesterol: 41mg

Reviews & Comments

  • Can I divide this between (2) 8×8 pans (give 1 away and keep 1)? I would like to make this for a friend recovering from surgery, but 13×9 would be too much.

    - Denise on April 24, 2017 Reply
    • Definitely!

      - Jenn on April 24, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Delicious!
    This is delicious and the Creme Fraiche gives it a rich flavour, without adding meat. I used dried no cook lasagna noodles. It is light tasting and I may not even make traditional one again. I have made it twice in the last two weeks, so easy and so delicious! I too could not stop stealing bites before serving.

    - Dawn on April 22, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Is there a particular brand of shredded whole milk mozzarella that you love…or are you freshly shredding your mozzarella?

    - RK on April 20, 2017 Reply
    • Hi RK, I do shred the mozzarella and the brand I generally use is Galbani. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on April 21, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Easy and delicious. Made it twice. Once with regular and once with gluten free pasta. Comments were ‘deliciously rich and authentic” and ‘can I get the recipe’ so this one is definitely a keeper. Thanks!
    Joan S

    - Joan Shuler on April 14, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Yum! I made this, using the oven ready lasagna and the extra mozzarella. I also added a layer of fresh spinach, and 1 lb. ground meat seasoned with salt, pepper, Italian seasonings and fennel seed. I’m not sure how much “2 large handfuls” of basil is. I used 3 (2/3 oz.) packages of basil, and it turned out great. This is definitely a keeper!

    - Deb on April 13, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This was very good; thanks for sharing the recipe. I made three pans of it for friends who had just lost their husband/dad. Wanted a recipe that was easy but delicious and would be easy to feed an unknown number of gathering family. The son and daughter-in-law are also both professional chefs – so yes, it needed to be good. I made my own creme fraiche as the store bought was crazily expensive. That was easy.. Added Italian sausage to the sauce and layered whole baby spinach leaves and raw grated carrots between each layer. I also used more cheese – probably over 2 cups of mozzarella /pan. Took almost an hour to bake since it was cooled before time and each was a pretty big pan with the veggies in there. The chefs’ text back to me? “Amazing!” So thanks again for sharing this!

    - Sue S on April 12, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Dear Jenn, the lasagna – amazing! This review is LONG overdue. You have changed my life in the kitchen over the past year. You are a household name here, my family knows when something is delicious its your recipe. You have taken the guess work out of if dinner is going to turn out or not – if its your recipe I know its going to turn out perfectly. Your website, notes, how you personally answer questions, “pair with”, all of it, A+, you are very talented. As a busy mom of 3, I thank you for making life a little easier with wonderful food.

    - Jamie N. on April 11, 2017 Reply
    • So glad you enjoyed the lasagna and the recipes in general, thanks for the kind words!

      - Jenn on April 11, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Am eating a slice right now! Delicious! Tastes “elegant” which I’ve never said about lasagne! I did add 6 ounces of spinach and some Italian sausage to one layer because I had it on hand. Will definitely make again…..I’m so enjoying each bite!

    - Elaine on April 9, 2017 Reply
  • Can you assemble a day in advance and cook the following day? I like to have everything ready when I have guests for dinner. Absolutely love this lasagna, my husband does not like lasagna but requested this for our guests. Thank you for all of your great recipes.

    - Betty Mosley on April 8, 2017 Reply
    • Yes Betty, I think that will work. Glad you enjoy the recipes!

      - Jenn on April 8, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Hello,

    Recently discovered your site & couldn’t love it more; your recipes seamlessly blend the needs of a “foodie” sensibility with the realities of being a busy mom who doesn’t have time to spend all day in the kitchen (sigh)… also, I love how you often devise recipes for parents who are adventurous eaters, who happen to have children who aren’t necessarily that way (yet!) :)

    Onto my question: I was thinking of making this for Passover (we’re not concerned about dairy at the table :) ) – it looks perfect because my kids, like yours, are not big ricotta fans… do you think matzoh would work in place of the noodles, or will it be too dry? I’m also (half-)pondering how I might work spinach into it (“half” because the spinach would certainly be the dealbreaker w/ the kids anyway) – most spinach lasagna recipes have you mix the spinach into the ricotta – is there any way to do it here without the ricotta?

    Thank you!!!
    Rosa

    - Rosa L. on April 8, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Rosa, so glad you’re enjoying the recipes! Yes, I think you could add spinach to this. I would just add it as a layer. Regarding the matzo, I really don’t know- I suspect it would get really mushy (so do it at your own risk :). If do you try it, I’d love to hear how it turns out!

      - Jenn on April 10, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this last night. It was wonderful . The sauce is lovely . I will add a bit more mozzarella next time but thank you again for a wonderful recipe.

    - LeeAnn on April 6, 2017 Reply
  • Can I substitute homemade yogurt for the creme fraiche?

    - Pam on April 2, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Pam, I’ve never tried this with yogurt so I can’t say for sure. If you try it that way, I’d love to hear how it turns out!

      - Jenn on April 2, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    A+ recipe. This lasagna is so delicious that I actually brushed my teeth right after dinner in order to prevent me from “sampling” it continuously!

    I pureed the sauce with a hand blender because I was afraid one of my sons and/or his friend would dislike tomato chunks in it. Since I didn’t have fresh basil, I used dried; and I also used no-boil noodles. I will definitely be making this again!

    - Marie-Jeanne on March 28, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This was so scrumptious! Over the course of 3 days, I nearly ate the whole pan myself. I believe my son got one piece, but unfortunately for him, he was a little slow.

    - Victoria on March 28, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I lost my go to lasagne recipe and this recipe has taken its place. So delicious. Just curious if anyone has tried freezing it and if so, how did that work out? Thanks.

    - Barbara Dowtin on March 24, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Barbara, Glad you like it! And, yes, this can be frozen (but I’ll let any readers weigh in on whether or not they have frozen it b/c I have not).

      - Jenn on March 25, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This lasagna was a mouthful of cheesy deliciousness. When the dish was brought out of the oven, it was picture perfect. I did use more cheese, garlic and basil, but the flavors blended. I also used sour cream, as after 2 stores not finding creme fraiche, I moved on. The flavor in the sauce was great but next time I will make my own creme fraiche. This is sooooo good, I want to make it again this weekend!

    - Pam Schmidt on March 23, 2017 Reply
  • 4 stars

    Made it last night! Very light and not too filling. However I made it in a stoneware pan and it needed more cook time. Also I think I will let it sit longer because it was a little runny. But even my carnivore husband liked it❤

    - Judi on March 23, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This was absolutely delicious. My entire family loved it and said it was a “keeper”. I love the simplicity of the recipe and ingredients (especially since I used the no boil lasagna noodles). I used 16 oz of mozzarella cheese since I didn’t want to waste any :) but other than that and the noodles, I didn’t change a thing. One question, would you use diced or crushed tomatoes instead of the whole tomatoes to simplify the recipe even more or would that ruin the consistency of the sauce somehow?

    - Adriene on March 21, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Adriene, Glad you enjoyed it as much as we did! I think you could definitely get away with using diced tomatoes — or 1 can diced, 1 can crushed — but I’d avoid using all crushed.

      - Jenn on March 21, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jen,

    Can I use two, 28-oz. cans of crushed tomatoes instead of whole ones / breaking them up? Or could that throw off the consistency and make it too soupy (even after resting)?

    Thank you!

    - Kelly on March 21, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Kelly, I would use diced tomatoes or 1 can diced, 1 can crushed. Please let me know how it turns out if you try it that way.

      - Jenn on March 21, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    Made this tonight and paired it with the focaccia and a green salad. This was hands down our favorite lasagna recipe (and that it was by far the easiest to make is just a bonus!). Probably added a little more cheese and next time, I will blend the tomato before adding the creme fraiche… This and the focaccia were HUGE hits. Definitely make this recipe.

    - Sarah Saunders on March 19, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I made this lasagna and it was delicious. I’m one to make it with bechamel sauce and just regular pasta. However after trying this one I dont think I’m going back. The sauce was delicious and I could not taste the difference between regular pasta and the no boil pasta.

    - Yudelka on March 19, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jen,

    Loving the new ” pair with” button! Just to clarify, the fresh pasta doesn’t need to be boiled first before assembly, right?

    - Lu on March 19, 2017 Reply
    • So glad, Lu! And yes that’s right – the pasta does not need to be boiled first.

      - Jenn on March 19, 2017 Reply
  • 4 stars

    Absolutely delicious and so easy to make. I would mix in a bag of fresh spinach once the sauce is prepared and if you want to take it up a notch, maybe add a few links of ground sausage that’s already been sauteed. The recipe was great as is but I always look for ways to get a few more veggies and some more protein into my meals.

    - Alicia Friedman on March 18, 2017 Reply
  • Jen, really adding mushrooms to this recipe. Do I cook them first or put in raw? Thanks. Susan

    - Susan on March 17, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Susan, I’d definitely cook them first. Please come back and lmk how it turns out :).

      - Jenn on March 18, 2017 Reply
      • 4 stars

        I cooked the mushrooms in butter and also thawed some frozen spinach and added both in as a layer. I am not sure about the mushrooms, perhaps they should have been cooked longer. Not sure that I would use them again but definitely the spinach. The sauce is delicious.

        - Susan on March 18, 2017 Reply
        • All good to know– thanks for the follow up and glad you enjoyed it!

          - Jenn on March 19, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I just made this tonight and it’s fabulous. It’s my first lasagna–and using the no boil noodles made it all so easy. What do you think about adding mushrooms or spinach?

    - Sarah on March 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Sarah, In the book Julia suggests adding cooked spinach, broccoli rabe, mushrooms, or cubes of butternut squash (or a combination of vegetables) to each layer for a more substantial vegetarian lasagna. Would love to know how it turns out if you try it that way!

      - Jenn on March 16, 2017 Reply
      • 5 stars

        Hi Jenn,
        I made this lasagna last night and I could not wait for lunchtime to eat the leftovers! Delish! I made two small additions…1/4 cup of white wine to the sauce while simmering and I sliced some sweet Italian chicken sausage (fully cooked) into very small pieces and added it after the sauce cooled…so easy and my family absolutely loved it!

        - Rhonda Howell on March 17, 2017 Reply
  • Hi Jenn!

    I make my own meat based sauce and freeze it in serving sizes. Can I just thaw it and add the creme fraiche rather than make new sauce?

    I love receiving your e-mails. Any recipe I’ve tried has worked well. I kind of regard you as my personal recipe reviewer and tester, which is a huge time saver for me!

    Thank you!

    - Paddy on March 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Paddy, So glad you’re enjoying the newsletter! To answer your question, lasagna can be either soupy or dry without the exact right amount of sauce, and unfortunately I don’t know how much to tell you to use. I’d probably play it safe and make the sauce from scratch, just to be sure the lasagna is the right consistency and the noodles cook properly. Sorry!

      - Jenn on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • Could we add meat to this? (i.e. turkey)

    - PG on March 16, 2017 Reply
    • Yes, you’d brown it in the oil with the garlic and then add the tomatoes; then just continue as directed.

      - Jenn on March 16, 2017 Reply
      • awesome! Thank you! :)

        - PG on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    I LOVE this lasagna – her book is fabulous, and I’ve made the lasagna 3x. You *have* to make the pasta! It makes the dish and is really a game-changer. It’s very easy, and I actually prefer it hand-rolled. Try it!

    - Sally on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • Question: I live 100 miles from a good grocery store – is there an okay sub for creme frache?? Love your recipes!

    - Sandy Kuykendall on March 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Sandy, I think you could get away with sour cream or you could try making your own creme fraiche – it’s easy.

      - Jenn on March 16, 2017 Reply
      • why about using crema mexicana, or the yogurt-based product kefir, which looks like sour cream dip? I’ve used both in creamy soups, tacos, chicken tikka, but they are a bit more tart than creme fraiche…

        - peggy on March 16, 2017 Reply
        • I’ve tried sour cream (worked well) but can’t say for sure about the others. If you try it, please report back :).

          - Jenn on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • Ok, finally a lasagna recipe that looks easy! As mentioned by others, I don’t like ricotta in lasagna, so definitely trying this! Would I need to make any adjustments if I were to add, say 1/2 Ib ground beef? Thanks!

    - Yvonne on March 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Yvonne, In the book Julia suggests browning 8 oz each ground beef and sweet Italian sausage meat in the oil with the garlic and then add the tomatoes. Then just continue as directed.

      - Jenn on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • Sounds delicious and simple to make! From your recipes, which sides/soup/salad would you choose? I’m hosting a dinner for four and think this would be great – I’m a newbie for cooking and find all your recipes wonderful!

    - Sandy on March 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi Sandy, If you click on the “pair with” tab above (next to print), I’ve added some suggestions. Hope you enjoy!

      - Jenn on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • If you were to add meat (ground turkey or beef or mixed), when would be the best time?

    - George on March 16, 2017 Reply
    • Hi George, Julia actually gives instructions for a meat lasagna in the book. She says to brown 8 oz each ground beef and sweet Italian sausage meat in the oil with the garlic and then add the tomatoes. Continue as directed. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

      - Jenn on March 16, 2017 Reply
      • Answers my question perfectly! Thanks.
        Can’t wait to make.

        - Jane on March 16, 2017 Reply
  • 5 stars

    This cheat is absolutely brilliant! Thank you for this. I detest lasagna with ricotta (usually people sub with cottage cheese), and neither the ricotta or cottage cheese is drained. My preference is to make a beschamel but can be another time consuming step. Therefore mixing in the creme fraiche is such a time saver, and makes for a lovely unctuous sauce. I love this recipe but personally prefer to use canned San Marzano tomatoes. Thanks again.

    - Deni on March 15, 2017 Reply
  • Trying this this week! I’ve used sour cream in place of Ricotta or Bechamel for years, but I’ve never mixed it into the tomato sauce. Excited to try homemade noodles too–I usually use no boil.

    - Bekki on March 15, 2017 Reply

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