Julia Turshen’s “A Nice Lasagna”

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This light and elegant lasagna comes from Julia Turshen’s lovely cookbook, Small Victories (Chronicle Books, 2016).

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.

What you’ll need To Make Julia’s “Nice Lasagna”

ingredients

Step-by-Step Instructions

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

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Julia Turshen's Lasagna

This light and elegant lasagna comes from Julia Turshen’s lovely cookbook, Small Victories (Chronicle Books, 2016).

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
  • 1½ cups 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). Please keep in mind that there are usually more than 12 lasagna noodles in a package. Make sure just to use 12; if not the dish will be very dry. The time given for this recipe was calculated using the store-bought noodles. If you use no-boil lasagna noodles, after you've prepared the sauce, you can move on to the next step without waiting for the sauce to cool.
  5. Note: My only change to the recipe, other than using no-boil lasagna noodles was to sprinkle fresh basil over top before serving.

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Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

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

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • QUESTION – I want to make this and freeze it (assembled, but not baked). Then thaw and bake later. Would this work?

    • — Sarah Estes on May 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Sarah, that will work. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • My husband doesn’t generally eat lasagna since he doesn’t like ricotta (weirdo). I made this recipe with meat in the sauce and he LOVED it! I’ve never made a recipe from this site or either cookbook that hasn’t been delicious and easy to pull off. Thanks for another winner!

    • — Kelly Mc on May 19, 2022
    • Reply
  • ❤️ An easy and delicious lasagna to throw together. Couldn’t find no-boil noodles and didn’t feel up to making my own, so used regular lasagna noodles and it still turned out great.

    • — Joseph on April 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn!
    Are there any substitutions for the Crème Fraiche? I’ve been to Whole Foods and Giant but they didn’t have any? I could try Balduccis but wondered if there were any other options?! I’ve made this dish before and love it as I do all your recipes !
    Thank you,
    Marny

    • — Marny McCain on February 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen,
    Love your recipes and new cookbook! This is one of my favorite recipes on your site. I wanted to make it tonight, but with just my husband and myself, this would be a lot of lasagna. Can the leftovers be frozen? If not, I can 1/2 the recipe and use a smaller baking dish.
    Thanks!!!!

    • — Katy on February 5, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Katy, So glad you like the recipes! 🙂
      I prefer to freeze lasagna unbaked as it holds up a little better, but it’s fine to freeze leftovers. Also, you can halve the recipe and make it in an 8 x 8-inch baking dish.

      • — Jenn on February 7, 2022
      • Reply
  • Question for those who have made this the night before and then cooked the day of serving: is it okay to use the store-bought no-boil lasagna noodles in this instance as well? Thanks for any thoughts and another great recipe, Jenn!

    • — Diane on January 12, 2022
    • Reply
    • Yes, Diane, that’s fine. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 12, 2022
      • Reply
  • My first time using readybake lasagna. Love the tomato sauce and the results. This was beautiful and now a family favorite. Sour cream works same as creme frache. The fresh basil is a must. thank you so much. this is a nice lasagna.

    • — Cindy on December 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • This lasagna is awesome! For such simple ingredients, it tastes absolutely beautiful. I only get 2 layers of noodles with 12 of the no-boil squares, and I usually at least double the amount of mozzarella called for. One of my favorites!

    • — Janet G on December 2, 2021
    • Reply
  • First time I made this, I made the mistake of not reading the whole recipe and ran out of sauce after only 3 layers of pasta. I paced myself better the second time and was able to get 4 layers in and it was perfect! I did add meat but only added it to the sauce after I got a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. I love the addition of creme fraiche. And only modification was that I ended up using a little more mozarella and parmesan than was called for. Family had seconds (including the pickier members!). I checked our Julia’s book after you introduced us to her and her book is great! Thank you!

    • — Ro on November 10, 2021
    • Reply

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