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).
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”
Begin with the sauce. In a large bowl, crush the tomatoes with your hands.
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.
In a large saucepan, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes and salt and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it’s slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.
Mix in the crème fraîche.
Season to taste with salt and set aside.
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.
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).
Bake the lasagna, uncovered, until it’s nicely browned and the edges are bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes.
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.
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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).
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
- 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
For the Sauce
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and have more parchment paper at hand.
- 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
- Preheat your oven to 400°F.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Note: My only change to the recipe, other than using no-boil lasagna noodles was to sprinkle fresh basil over top before serving.
- 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.
The sauce is what makes this lasagne a hit. Creamy and flavorful thanks to the creme fraiche.
I added chopped spinach, definitely more mozz than the recipe called for and used the no-bake noodles. Delish!
This is my favorite lasagna!! I do add 1/2 lb ground beef and 1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage to the sauce. Creme fraiche has been ridiculously hard to come by lately so I tried substituting mascarpone and a bit of balsamic…it was delicious! I don’t even bother with the oven ready noodles – I use regular old lasagna noodles and they bake up perfectly!
This is a great, simple recipe. My only change was to add more mozzarella cheese. The recipe makes a LOT of sauce and I didn’t use it all in the lasagne. Should I be adding all of the sauce before baking? Or is the recipe intended to leave extra sauce to pour on top, if desired?
Hi Debbie, Glad you liked it. All of the sauce should be distributed among the layers should there really should be any leftover.
Can this recipe be made a day ahead and reheated nicely or should I plan on eating it the day it is made?
Hi Victoria, It’s perfectly fine to make it ahead and reheat. Enjoy!
My goodness…I’ve made this lasagna multiple times with variations – adding Italian sausage, veggies, etc., always to rave reviews. But today I made it with the homemade lasagna noodles. It’s always been very, very good, but the recipe for the pasta was easy and excellent and really put this into the “MOST AMAZING” category. Great recipe in the first place; incredible recipe with the homemade pasta. Thanks for posting this one!
Hi! Can I prep this the night before serving and then bake it the following night?
Or bake and a then reheat the following night?
Hi Joanne, You can definitely bake this ahead and reheat. I haven’t assembled this a day ahead, but I think that should work too. Hope you enjoy!
Just a note to say I have assembled this and baked the next day (even 2 days later). Comes out great.
Yum, I just made this. Followed the recipe, used no-boil noodles and added a bunch of roasted veggies to the layers – an orange pepper, 2 poblanos, 2 zucchinis, some mushrooms and some quickly caramelized (an hour) onion. Used a ton of basil. It is wonderful, never making another recipe again. Thank you for yet another winning recipe! Every recipe I have made from this site has been fabulous!
Hi Jen – thanks for all the fab recipes, I’m looking forward to your next book!
Can this dish be assembled the day before baking? I’m looking to prep something that my kids can throw in the oven when I’m out of town…if not this one can you recommend another?
Hi Donna, So glad you like the recipes, and thanks for your support with the cookbook! I haven’t assembled this a day ahead, but I think it should work. Hope the kids enjoy!
I’m looking forward to making this recipe! I happen to have a lot of part-skim mozzarella on hand right now. Will using that instead of the whole-milk change the flavor too much?
Hi Ruthie, It won’t change the flavor much — it will just be less creamy. Please LMK how it turns out!
Thanks for your reply, Jenn. It turned out great and our friends enjoyed it as well! It seemed plenty creamy to me, and the sauce was silky. BTW, I made my own creme fraiche and it worked really well in this recipe. Another winner!
So glad it came out well — thanks for reporting back!
I’ve made this several times always with very good results. Yesterday, I decided it was time once again for this meatless lasagna (you could certainly add meat if you’d prefer) and I suddenly realized I didn’t have the creme fraiche! I did have some half and half and some 2% plain yogurt, so I mixed them together until the right consistency. The lasagna tasted exactly as it had with creme fraiche. I thought this was worth mentioning should creme fraiche not be readily available everywhere!
I live in western Pa., near Pittsburgh. My next door neighbor was an older Italian
woman that made the most amazingly light lasagna. I went looking for a similar recipe. This recipe nailed it. I don’t think she used creme fraiche, but what an awesome addition. Since finding this recipe we have made it a half dozen times. We do add a bit more garlic and cheese and use cream cheese instead of creme fresh as it wasn’t available nearby. Just took the sauce off the heat before whisking in. After seeing you use oven ready noodles I will never boil them again, just as good, and so mush easier. Thanks for an awesome recipe.
One of my favorite dishes to make and eat. I do cheat sometimes by using dried Basil instead of fresh. Not as good but in a pinch works. One of those dishes that you can always have items on hand in pantry.
This is hands down the best lasagna I have ever had! Plus, it is simple to make!
I would like to make this delicious lasagna but would like to add cooked spinach and sautéed mushrooms to it. Would I just add these 2 ingredients to the red sauce? Sandra
Hi Sandra, In the cookbook that the dish comes from, the author suggests evenly dividing any cooked veggies you’d like to use (like spinach or mushrooms) and adding them to each layer. Please LMK how it turns out!
This recipe is easy, the lasagna is creamy yet delightfully fresh tasting, and it doesn’t have the heaviness of the usual lasagna meal. I’m not a pasta fan but this has definitely become a favorite meal. Delicious!
Simple and delicious. This is in our regular rotation and never disappoints.
I’ve made this several times and it is fabulous. Simple and so good. Made my own creme fraiche. Also simple and so good. Would like to make this for a friend coming hime from hospital. Wondering if it can be frozen. If so, before or after baking?
So glad you like it! I prefer to freeze lasagna unbaked — it holds up better — but it’s fine to freeze a baked lasagna, too. Hope your friend enjoys!
My son, home from college, and I made this lasagna during the holidays season. It came together beautifully and tasted delicious. With some French bread and a salad, it was the perfect Sunday meal. The best part, though, is the memory of cooking together.
This is an easy recipe resulting in a lovely, light lasagna. I have made it many times.
This is my new go to recipe for lasagna! So much less work than my previous veggie lasagna. The creme fraiche in the sauce is genius. I added thinly sliced zucchini between the layers for some extra veg and served with simple green salad. YUMMO
Our absolute favorite lasagna recipe! As a shortcut, I use Trader Joe’s no boil lasagna noodles. Perfect every time:)
I just adore this lasagna! Aside from being super easy, it is lighter than traditional versions and it’s super delicious. I’ve made it several times, both with the recipe’s sauce and jarred Rao’s marinara, which is perfect on a weeknight. Yum!
This lasagna is incredible. It’s so light but still fulfilling like traditional lasagna. Every time I make it for company, they are always asking for the recipe. To get a couple extra servings of veggies I’ll slice zucchini thinly and layer it along with shredded carrots. You can hardly even taste them but it gives it a little extra.
Thank you, Jen, making this recipe much easier than it was written! The oven ready noodles are a must. I made a few mistakes along the way, but the dish came out great, but I know it will come out better next time. I ran out of sauce so I didn’t use enough noodles so it was a little flat. My error, not the recipe. Great dish, very tasty! Will try it again.
What is the name of a good Italian sausage.
I usually buy Premio brand, but whatever your store carries should be fine. 🙂
Thank you for this amazing recipe. Everyone loved this lasagna, so light and delicious. We will be making this often. Thank you for all the wonderful recipes. You have helped us so much during this pandemic and brought joy to cooking because your recipes work and make the effort worthwhile.
Can i substitute heavy cream for creme fraiche? Thx
Hi Tricia, If you have heavy cream. You easily make your own creme fraiche. See how here. Hope that helps and that you enjoy!
Absolutely delicious lasagna! My family loves this! Thank you Jen!
This was phenomenal! So light and delicious. Love that it didn’t have the gritty feel (from the ricotta) that you typically find in a lasagna. I would actually characterize it less as a lasagna and more as just a simple, delicious pasta dish. Almost reminded me of a pappardelle in a silky tomato sauce. Will definitely be making this recipe again!
I love this recipe! It’s become a staple in our house. I do add meat though (usually a pound of ground beef and a pound of hot Italian sausage). While the sauce is reducing I brown the meat and then throw it in the tomato sauce with the creme freche once everything is done (you can also used plant based meat which works just as well – but it does absorb more sauce so you have to add an extra can of tomatoes when youre making the sauce). Thanks so much for this recipe Jen!
Question and suggestion
I’ve made this several times and its always a hit.
I use a potato masher to crush the tomatoes. It works well, but do remember to place a paper towel over the bowl to prevent splatter.
My local grocer has stopped carrying creme fraiche. I now have to travel 30 miles to find it. Can you recommend a substitute?
Glad you like this and thanks for the suggestion — I’m sure other readers will appreciate it! You can actually make your own creme fraiche. See how here. If you don’t want to make your own, sour cream should work instead.
I made this tonight and added sauteed mushrooms and baby broccoli and it was just delicious, a lovely summertime lasagna!! I will be making this version again!!
Hi Jenn. Is it ok to make the sauce the day before and keep it in the refrigerator until using? Thank you for all of your amazing recipes. Not only are you extremely talented, but your replies are always so kind and respectful!! Lori
I’m always happy to help (and so glad you like the recipes)! Yes, you can make the sauce a day ahead and refrigerate. Enjoy! 🙂
I made this and served it with your rosemary focaccia and it was a huge success. My youngest son was so taken by the sight and smell of the tomato sauce with creme fraiche in the pot that he wanted to have it as soup so I set a bowl aside for him and he loved it 🙂
Thanks for all of the great recipes, Jenn!
Can I add some vegetables to this lasagna? It yes, what vegetables would you suggest and how much?
FYI-I made the almond biscotti and they are a BIG hit. I can’t stop eating them. 😄your recipes are amazing. Thank you for all those amazing recipes.
Hi Janelle, Glad you’re enjoying the biscotti! Yes, you can add veggies to the lasagna. In the cookbook that the dish comes from, the author suggests adding cooked spinach, broccoli rabe, mushrooms, or cubes of butternut squash (or a combination of vegetables) to each layer. Just make sure you saute them first. I’d recommend adding a total of no more than 2 cups. Please LMK how it turns out with the addition of vegetables!
I added steamed broccoli and sautéed mushrooms to the lasagna and it was very delicious. Thank you for another wonderful recipe. You are amazing😄
So glad it turned out well with veggies — thanks for reporting back! 🙂
This delicious recipe was a big hit with my family! Can you clarify the amount of mozzarella cheese to use? I purchased a 16 ounce brick of Galbani mozzarella and shredded it myself. Does the recipe call for 12 ounces of mozzarella cheese–as in 1.5 cups before shredding? Or 1.5 cups after shredding? The 16 oz package yields about 4 cups shredded. Thanks!
Glad you enjoyed it! The 1-1/2 cups of cheese is the volume of cheese you’ll need in dry measuring cups (not the weight). Hope that clarifies. 🙂
Jenn- I want to make lasagna but can’t use the sausage and would like to use meat instead. Would you recommend this recipe or substitute the ground beef in the sausage one. thanks, Love your recipes.
Hi Susan, I’d stick with the other lasagna and use ground beef – just make sure the ground beef is well seasoned. Hope you enjoy!
Made this tonight and it was perfect. I made it with the oven ready lasagna noodles, but the sauce and cheese were so good! Served with green beans with garlic, Parmesan, and bread crumbs (https://www.tastesoflizzyt.com/italian-green-beans/) Will DEFINITELY make again. Thanks!!
Jenn, This nice lasagna is more than nice. It’s awesome and I’ve made it several times. Without the ricotta it’s so light and delicious. It also works well with gluten free No- bake lasagna Noodles, making it easy to make a smaller portion for the gluten free.
I love the title ..it IS a nice lasagne . I make it exactly as stated , usually served as a starter before the main meal. It is a favorite, the best! Thanks for sharing.
Can I substitute Romano for Parmesan?
If so, same amount?
Yes and yes – enjoy!
I’m wondering if it would be okay to use a 9 x 13” non-stick metal pan for this lasagna?
Sure – hope you enjoy!
Hi Jenn – This is my favorite lasagna recipe! I’ve used the no-boil noodles before which was great, but I just got a pasta maker and was hoping to use fresh lasagna noodles instead. Will that come out the same? Or would I need to modify cooking times? Thank you!
So glad you like this lasagna! The baking time should remain about the same. Enjoy your pasta maker! 🙂
Delicious as expected! I used About 10 No boil noodles. I also added some Italian sausage and accidentally forgot to buy Parmigiano so increased the mozzarella To make up for it. This will be in our rotation for life! Pretty easy to make too.
This recipe is perfect! I’ll never make lasagna another way again. I use no-bake noodles and diced tomatoes instead of whole. These two (minor) swaps make this recipe so quick and easy to throw together with minimal mess! A keeper for sure!
And I forgot to add 5 stars!
Made this last night and it was fantastic! My question for next time is-would there be a difference in using crushed canned tomatoes as opposed to crushing them yourself? Thanks! Kristy
Glad you enjoyed it! For the right consistency for the sauce, I would use diced tomatoes or 1 can diced and 1 can crushed. Please let me know how it turns out if you try it that way. 🙂
I tried this with the one can diced and one can crushed and it was good but not as delicious as made with the two cans of whole tomatoes. One can was fire roasted (crushed) so that might’ve thrown off my experiment -didn’t notice when I bought it. In the finished lasagna some of the diced tomatoes didn’t break down fully so there are some firm bits that my kids and I didn’t like. I should mention as a caveat that I originally used two cans of whole San Manzano tomatoes, and this time used a good brand of organic canned tomatoes. My last note is that when I first made this I added in some cooked Italian sausage which may also be skewing my results, that was such a tasty add in. Conclusion: For me, it’s whole tomatoes all the way! When I made this on Xmas day I thought my 4 year old would love squishing the tomatoes for me but I was wrong- the tomatoes squirted her face and she was out! Lol
*San Marzano tomatoes
I made this last night and it makes a TON of sauce! I ended up using traditional lasagna noodles with the curled edges- uncooked. I added sausage, but really, it didn’t ‘need’ it. My husband is a meatasaurus:) This was a delicious sauce with plenty absorbed into the noodles with enough left in the pan to spoon over the top of each piece. Thank you- this is a keeper. I am not a fan of ricotta in lasagna so I really liked it!
Hi- can I make this a couple of days ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until I am ready to make?
Hi Ali, I think a day ahead would be fine, but not sure I’d let it sit for a couple of days. I worry that the noodles would soak up too much of the sauce and the cooked lasagna would be a bit dry.
I really liked this recipe and it was easy to make! The sauce is delicious!