Lasagna probably isn’t high on your list of holiday foods, but maybe it should be! It’s certainly a tradition in our house. On Christmas Eve, my Dad’s side of the family comes over to share a meal and exchange gifts. In 2013, Reese and I moved into our new house just days before Christmas Eve. We were in quite the rush to prepare for the holidays. We made it a little easier on ourselves by serving lasagna instead of a traditional Christmas meal for three reasons: it feeds a lot of people, it’s relatively easy to make, and good, homemade lasagna is just as comforting as you would expect any holiday meal to be. And so the tradition of the holiday lasagna was born.
My recipe comes from the best source: my mom. And it uses my favorite cooking appliance: a slow cooker. Much like Slow Cooker Thanksgiving, I’m all about using slow cookers to make the holidays a little easier. Of course, you can make this recipe any time of the year and it will be just as special.
- 2 lbs ground meat beef or turkey
- 2 tsp italian seasoning
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 29 ounces tomato sauce
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp dried onion
- 12 lasagna noodles
- 30 ounces ricotta cheese
- 32 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
- 12 slices fresh mozzarella optional, but recommended
Brown meat in skillet, add Italian seasoning, drain fat.
Combine browned meat, tomato paste, and tomato sauce in slow cooker.
Season to taste with garlic powder and dried onion.
Let simmer all day (3 to 4 hours) on low or until ready to prepare.
When ready to assemble, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook lasagna noodles according to package instructions and drain. Separate immediately and coat with non-stick spray to prevent noodles from sticking together.
Coat bottom of 9 x 13 rectangle pan or glass dish with non-stick spray.
Layer lasagna noodles, meat sauce, ricotta cheese, and mozzarella to top of dish.
If you have extra meat sauce, put one more layer on top and top with mozzarella.
If adding fresh mozzarella, place thin slices on top of lasagna before covering with foil.
Cover with foil and bake in pre-heated oven approximately 25-30 minutes. Remove foil for last 10 minutes of baking. Bake until cheese is melted and warm all the way through.
My mom’s original recipe called for a mix of ground beef and sausage, but we use turkey to cut calories. Use whichever meat you prefer. You can also purchase ground beef or turkey that is pre-seasoned with Italian seasoning.
Let cook for 3-4 hours or until the air in your house smells so delicious you want to eat the walls. (Don’t eat the walls.) As it cooks, make sure to test the flavor and add additional spices as needed.
When you’re satisfied with your meat sauce, boil the lasagna noodles according to the package instructions. Add a splash of olive oil to the water to prevent the noodles from sticking together. I also spray a little Pam with olive oil on them once I’ve drained the water with a colander. Then I lay the noodles out individually on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper while I assemble everything.
Alternatively, use noodles that don’t require cooking first. They’re clearly labeled on the package.
Now, you’re ready to assemble the lasagna. The layers are simple: noodles, meat sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, repeat. Make sure to spray the bottom of your dish with cooking spray so the noodles don’t stick to the bottom.
Another common swap is cottage cheese for ricotta. Let me just say this: DON’T DO IT. Cottage cheese in lasagna is gross. Use ricotta. It’s smooth texture blends seamlessly into the mountains of mozzarella.
If you’re going to eat it right away, bake according to the recipe above.
Make in Advance and Freeze
My favorite part about serving lasagna for the holidays is that you can make it in advance and freeze it! I usually make mine in early December (or November) before the chaos of the holidays truly sets in. Actually, when I make the lasagna for Christmas Eve, I prepare two and freeze one. The other we enjoy for dinner right away so you get two amazing meals with one day of preparation.
Before freezing the lasagna, allow it to cool to room temperature either on the counter or in the refrigerator. Then cover the entire thing with plastic wrap and cover the top with aluminum foil. You want to make sure it’s as airtight as possible before you place it in the freezer to reduce the chance of freezer burn. If you wrap it while the lasagna is still warm, you’ll freeze excess condensation increasing your chance of freezer burn.
When you’re ready to bake the lasagna, I highly recommend thawing it first. Place the lasagna in the refrigerator at least one day in advance to thaw. If you don’t thaw the lasagna, bake an additional 30 minutes to an hour or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Before placing the thawed lasagna in the oven, make sure to remove the plastic wrap! Remove the foil and plastic wrap. Discard the plastic wrap, but replace the foil on top. When you have about 20 minutes left on your cook time, remove the foil so the top layer of cheese will melt and brown. Again, the internal temperature should reach 165 degrees and the liquid should be bubbling around the sides when it’s done.
Bonus Tip: Top with Fresh Mozzarella Slices
To make your holiday lasagna extra special, top it with slices of fresh mozzarella in that last 20 minutes of cooking.
Once you remove the lasagna from the oven let it cool for 5-10 minutes, serve with garlic bread, and enjoy!
On Christmas Eve, I serve this lasagna with my Banana Bread with Browned Butter Icing. It’s a decadent meal, sure to put everyone in a wonderful food coma.
I hope this recipe brings as much joy to your family as it does to ours year after year. From our family to yours, we hope you have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!