If creamy pasta makes you weak in the knees, white lasagna is going to be right up your alley. You’ve got to try it.
Unlike lasagnas made with marinara, here, you won’t find a drop of red sauce in sight. You’ll find layers of hearty pasta, ricotta, mozzarella, Italian sausage crumbles, and an entire pound of fresh spinach.
But what makes white lasagna so special and totally irresistible is the creamy white sauce that blankets each layer throughout the casserole. Ready to get cooking?
What Is the White Sauce in Lasagna Made Of?
The white sauce used in this lasagna is béchamel. It’s thick and incredibly creamy, although not too rich or heavy.
Béchamel is one of the five building-block sauces in French cuisine, and is made with a roux (equal parts butter and flour) mixed with milk, and seasoned with salt, pepper, and often a pinch of ground nutmeg.
Where Do You Put the White Sauce in Lasagna?
Like all lasagnas, white lasagna is assembled in layers, and you’ll add the white sauce to several places:
Bottom of the pan: A thin layer of sauce spread over the bottom of the pan prevents the noodles from sticking to the pan.
Between the layers: A heaping cup of sauce is added to the top of each layer, over the mozzarella.
Over the top layer of noodles: A layer of sauce spread over the top layer of noodles prevents them from drying out in the oven.
How Many Layers Should Lasagna Be?
This lasagna is made with two loaded layers of filling. It’s just the right amount to fill a standard 9-by-13-inch baking dish without spilling over, and creates a well-proportioned casserole that’s easy to cut into neat squares.
Each layer of the lasagna is assembled with noodles, ricotta cheese, cooked crumbled sausage, wilted spinach, shredded mozzarella cheese, and béchamel sauce. The casserole is then topped off with an additional layer of noodles, more sauce, and extra cheese for good measure.
What Vegetables or Meat Can I Add to White Lasagna?
Just as with red lasagna, there’s a variety of vegetables and meat that can be added to white lasagna. Here, the lasagna is layered with wilted spinach and Italian sausage (take your pick of mild or hot). Spinach adds a nice pop of color and lends freshness to an otherwise hearty casserole. And because they’re packed with seasonings and fat, sausage crumbles give the lasagna even more flavor.
Any cooked vegetable can work in white lasagna; roasted or grilled veggies are an especially good choice. Just be sure to avoid using raw vegetables, which can lead to a soggy lasagna because of the water content.
Shredded or chopped cooked chicken breast can be substituted for the sausage. If you want to make a vegetarian white lasagna, the meat can be omitted altogether.
Serves 8 to 10
- 1 quart whole milk (4 cups)
- 15 dried lasagna noodles (not no-boil, about 2/3 of a 1-pound box)
- 1 pound baby spinach or 1 (16-ounce) package frozen spinach
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 firmly packed cup grated on a Microplane or 2/3 cup store-bought)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound uncooked sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed if using links
- 2 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- 1 (15- to 16-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
Let the whole milk sit on the counter until room temperature.
Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Meanwhile, arrange the dry lasagna noodles in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Cover the noodles with hot tap water and let soak while you prepare the filling and sauce, about 30 minutes.
If using frozen spinach, thaw according to package directions. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel, roll it up in the towel, and carefully squeeze out all the excess moisture.
Dice the yellow onion and mince the garlic cloves. Grate the mozzarella cheese on the large holes of a box grater (about 3 cups). Finely grate the Parmesan cheese (about 1 packed cup).
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the uncooked Italian sausage and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
If using fresh baby spinach, add to pot a few handfuls at a time and stir until just wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. If using frozen spinach, add to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. If necessary, drain off any liquid. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool while you make the béchamel sauce.
Melt the unsalted butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the paste is bubbling and begins to dry out slightly, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk until no lumps remain. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of the kosher salt and a pinch of ground nutmeg, and stir to combine. Remove the pot from the heat.
Place half of the Parmesan cheese, all of the ricotta cheese, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Drain the lasagna noodles.
Assemble the lasagna: Place 1/4 cup béchamel sauce into the baking dish and spread into a thin, even layer. Arrange 5 of the lasagna noodles in an even layer on top of the sauce, breaking them if needed to fit (it’s OK if the noodles overlap slightly). Dollop and spread 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Spoon 1/2 of the sausage and spinach over the ricotta. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella. Dollop and spread about 1 heaping cup of the béchamel over the mozzarella.
Repeat layering 5 more lasagna noodles, the remaining ricotta mixture, the remaining sausage and spinach, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and 1 heaping cup of the béchamel. Top with the remaining lasagna noodles, remaining béchamel sauce, remaining mozzarella, and remaining Parmesan.
Bake uncovered until the cheeses are melted and lightly browned, and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Recipe Note: The lasagna can be assembled and refrigerated unbaked up to two days in advance, or frozen for up to one month. Thaw the frozen lasagna for two days in the refrigerator before baking. Leftovers can be refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for up to three days.