fresh pasta + basic tomato sauce

I have been enamored with the idea of thousand-layer lasagne since I first saw Heidi’s recipe for it on 101 Cookbooks. From “whisper-thin sheets” and “crunchy and caramelized” to her threat to “fight you for a corner piece,” I knew instantaneously this approach would be the answer to the deadweight-style baked pasta that has long kept me away. But, just like last weekend’s English muffins, it took Ruth Reichl’s whisper in my ear, er, email inbox, about “sheets so thin you could practically read the newspaper through them” to convince me not to wait any longer. I had to make it.

pasta, new school
self -portrait in upended bowl

But first, we had to buy a pasta roller. Unlike the artichoke ravioli, which I was able to form through hand-rolling, pressing lasagne noodles into impossibly thin sheets sounded like torture by hand. The machine cost about fifty percent more than I had hoped, but at that point was too obsessed with this baklazagne to care. One cinch of a sheeted noodle later, my doubts had evaporated, and as I ran it through setting after setting, thinner and yet thinner still, I couldn’t bring myself to stop one mark shy of the thinnest as Heidi has suggested, instead going all the way to 9 (baby). At its slimmest, the noodles were translucent, nearly impossible to keep flat and had almost torn-paper like edges, which I didn’t bother to trim clean.

my new love
floating into a soft pile

There was not a chance I’d get these boiled or even soaked in hot water a la Ina Garten without them falling apart — seriously, even a droplet of water made them stick to each other. The benefit for you is that it forced me to bake them uncooked, which I had originally been nervous to do, fearful of a dish deprived of its moisture by greedy noodles but given no other option, I realized a heavier-than-normal dousing of sauce made a perfectly-balanced dish. I kept the fillings simple: some spinach sauteed with coarsely-chopped garlic and mixed with a cup of ricotta and small pile of parmesan (though double this would have been a better amount) a pound of hand-torn fresh mozzarella strips and over four cups of fresh tomato sauce. After thirty or so minutes in the oven, the top began to buckle and warp, brown at the edges, the layers too light to handle the heat which I took as a sign of blissful blistered doneness.


I was only able to build seven — sniffle, so very far shy of a thousand — layers before simultaneously running out of sauce, cheese and filling, but I swear I could have brought it to an even ten before running out of dish space. Whether or not you choose to one-and-a-half the amount below to achieve those extra tiers, make your own sauce or start with from-scratch pasta is up to you — I won’t even pretend it didn’t take many hours to get all this done — I promise that you will fall in love with this complex but tissue-like dish. We ate it ravenously in front of the Rome premiere with a Caesar salad (Alex’s genius suggestion), and later still-frozen marbled brownies and a bottle of Tokaji, patting our bellies and reveling in our day off ahead. I hope you enjoyed yours, too.

it buckled

Fresh Pasta
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons water

To make pasta dough in a food processor: Blend flour, eggs, salt, and water in processor until mixture just begins to form a ball, adding more water, drop by drop, if dough is too dry (dough should be firm and not sticky). Process dough for 15 seconds more to knead it. Transfer to a floured surface and let stand, covered with an inverted bowl, 1 hour to let the gluten relax and make rolling easier.

To make dough by hand: Mound flour on a work surface, preferably wooden, and make a well in center. Add eggs, salt, and water to well. With a fork, gently beat eggs and water until combined. Gradually stir in enough flour to form a paste, pulling in flour closest to egg mixture and being careful not to make an opening in outer wall of well. Knead remaining flour into mixture with your hands to form a dough, adding more water, drop by drop, if dough is too dry (dough should be firm and not sticky). Knead dough until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Cover with an inverted bowl and let stand 1 hour (to make rolling easier).

Basic, Awesome Tomato Sauce

1 tablespoon butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
A couple glugs red wine
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 15-ounce can pureed tomatoes

Melt butter in saucepan over medium-high heat until foam subsides. Add shallots, red pepper flakes and salt, sauteing them together for a few minutes, until the shallots are translucent and beginning to color. Add the red wine, letting it sizzle and cook down slightly, then the whole and pureed tomatoes. Breaking the whole tomatoes up with a wooden spoon, let the sauce simmer for a few minutes. (No need to cook it down very much, as the extra liquid will be helpful to cook the pasta, and it will finish cooking in the oven.) Season to taste.

Makes approximately 5 cups of sauce

Other lasagne ingredients: Several cups of baby spinach, sauteed in olive oil with two chopped cloves of garlic, seasoned to taste and cooled slightly, then mixed with 1 to 2 cups ricotta (to taste, I prefer less, the large amount is more traditional) and 1/2 cup grated parmesan, dropped in small dollops around each layer. A one-pound ball of fresh mozzarella, torn and then scattered about, on top of the spinach mixture. The spinach can, of course, be replaced with any other mix of vegetables.

Baklasagne/Thousand Layer Lasagne pasta-sheeting and dish assembly instructions at 101 Cookbooks. My only adjustments were baking this in a 9 x 13 dish and not pre-boiling the pasta.

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79 comments on fresh pasta + basic tomato sauce

  1. Elizabeth Ann

    Hey Deb! That looks amazing, but if you are ever feeling lazy and not up to making fresh pasta. That Asian-style noodle they use for wonton wrappers make fabulous lasagna noodles! They are super thin and crunch up perfectly! Much lighter than the traditional crinkly edged lasanga noodle, and fairly inexpensive (two-three bucks) for a pack of 40 or so. I have also used them for in my ricotta and pancetta ravioli to rave reviews. Love your blog!

  2. Hum, this lasagna seems great!you can make the pasta with just 4 eggs for 3 cups of flour like you did, and just add some olive oil if it needs something more.

    I like your foodblog, and your pictures are really great! congratulations!


  3. Jesska

    This looks wonderful! I made your homemade pizza dough (1/2 whole wheat), and was so tickled with myself. I covered it in fresh tomato slices, and sprinkled it with a dried spinach dip mix I have. It almost “marinated” the tomatoes while cooking and I must confess…I have NEVER liked pizza more! Thanks SO much for the recipe! :)

  4. I may have to steal my mom’s pasta roller. She never uses it anyway. And just as importantly, how was Rome? We were tempted to get HBO just for this season of the show, but managed to talk ourselves in to saving the money toward a house instead. Stupid priorities! ;)

  5. Oh…MY….GAWD….I wasn’t hungry (because it’s 9:30) but now I am starving. This looks so much like my grandmother’s lasagna that she serves for Christmas Eve. I remember watching her role out the dough over and over again through the pasta machine afixed to her counter. I loved helping her keep the dough between sheets of slightly dampened cloth and delicately handing it to her when she was assembling our meal. Thank you Deb for bringing back a rush of memories!

  6. Santadad

    And what is the significance of the following phrase, particularly the word in parens?:

    “…..instead going all the way to 9 (baby).”

  7. i made lasagna on my day off too – almost identical to yours… weird. i only put the roller on 7 though and played with the sauce a bit more by adding some spices my dad brought back from india – so the dish has a curryish smell and a spicy bite. it was well recieved at the jack bauer party i went to.

    yours looks fantastic! next time i might go thinner, but the 9 setting scares me… any tips to keep them from sticking?

  8. Oooh, yum. I never thought of making lasagna like that. I love the name too! I’ve been into making all sorts of lasagna lately. The best part is that it’s always better the next day!

    The photo of the pasta roller is awesome… I just made some pasta last night and was taking photos of the roller, but mine was all greasy and thumbprinted from cooking that night :D your’s looks shiny and perfect

  9. I was also totally inspired by Heidi’s post back in the day. We did an all green version- spinach pasta, pesto, spinach-ricotta, and goat-cheese basil layers. Riffed from Lukins’ “New Classics” it was gorgeous, and like all good lasagne, only got better on the 2nd and 3rd days. Yours looks delish.

  10. you’re making your own pasta now huh? you’re remarkable. when do you find the time to do all this stuff? do you have dinner at like mid-night every night or what?

    looks yummy fantastic. wish i was there

  11. This is possibly the best pitch to make this lasagna that I’ve ever heard. I, too, have been on the sidelines wondering when I will make this but have been a bit timid….I think you just convinced me. Sounds like a perfect way to spend a Sunday.

  12. All this talk of baklasagna has completely given me an idea…..what if one were to eschew the idea of real pasta, and instead replace it with actual phyllo pastry…..can you imagine, a spicy, fresh tomato filling, chopped chicken, black olives, feta, oregano… a greek lasagna with phyllo pastry.

    It could be the start of a revolution….

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  13. ann

    dude, a pasta roller is so one of the first gadgets I’m buying once we move into our new apartment with the HUGE kitchen! not sure i’ll be rockin’ this recipt, but yeah, something with fresh, homemade pasta, oh yeaaaah! don’t you think i’m not gonna! okay, babbling over, this looks awesome… good on yeh, and props to alex for the caeser joke, that’s my kinda funny ;-)

  14. jb

    Trader Joe’s makes an excellent fresh lasagna noodle in their cold food section — usually by the fresh tortelini. And i’ve always substituted bechamel for the ricotta — makes it creamier and you don’t need to add so much sauce for the extra moisture.


  15. Yvo

    Wow. I am in awe. That looks so fantastically delicious, I am close to weeping for it. Of course, it’s 30 minutes till lunch, which might add to those emotions.

  16. Ani

    I so have to try this recipe. I always reheat my pasta in the microwave so it can get crunchy the way I like them or nibble on the crunchy edges of the baked pasta. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Nicole

    Wow. It takes a special brand of crazy to attempt this one. And even MORE special to think you can do that while your toddler is napping. On your first attempt at using a pasta maker. What a frickin’ process!

    Going to bake it soon… I have to admit it looks worth it.

  18. trudy

    We have had lasagna made with meat sauce, ricotta, mushrooms, sausage,olives, mozzarella and parmesean for 4 days. Your recipe without the meat looks interesting and I am ready to use the rest of lasagna noodles to try it, but not for a while. I did make my own noodles by hand one time, and you are right the noodles were thin and fresh. The pasta machine would have been easier.

  19. Cathy

    Last night I prepared the Basic Tomato Sauce as directed with an addition of half a chopped green bell pepper and I measured out 3 TBS of red wine. This sauce is absolutely delicious and is indeed a keeper and I encourage all of you to try it!!!


  20. Carol

    I need to make this ahead of time for a dinner party, but I don’t know if I should freeze it unbaked or just leave it in the refrigerator overnight until it’s time to bake. There are so many conflicting articles on the internet. Have you ever done this? Help!

  21. deb

    You can freeze it baked or unbaked. I vote for unbaked, so when you serve it, it tastes the freshest. You can also bake it 3/4 of the way the day before, refrigerate it and bake it the rest of the way before company comes. All methods work. Lasagne is very forgiving.

  22. Leigh

    This looks fantastic– one trick for a great, authentic-tasting pasta– swap half of the all-purpose flour with Semolina, a fine grain wheat product with more gluten than a typical flour. It will make your dough far less sticky and add great taste and consistency.

  23. So I’m slightly addicted to your blog. Just made this. I used a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for the pasta dough because I only had 3 eggs and not 4. I didn’t boil the pasta first either and it turned out just fine. This was absolutely divine. Comforting from the inside out and I know have leftovers for the week!

  24. Lisa

    I’ve never made my own pasta before, so I decided that before I dropped a big chunk of change on a pasta roller (which I wanted to do so badly), I should try it out with a rolling pin first (to see if I could actually make it in the first place). It was a bit messy, and I’m sure took longer, but was great! Husband loved it!

  25. I love the basic tomato sauce! I’ve made it twice now, and it’s delicious. I’ve made a batch for use as pizza sauce one night (which doesn’t take much sauce), and then the next night I use the rest for spaghetti of some sort. I don’t think I’ll buy pasta sauce again. Thanks for posting this!

  26. Carrie

    I made noodles with your fresh pasta recipe and they were delicious. I rolled the dough out by hand and cut strips with my pizza cutter. This sounds silly, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next (before throwing them into the pot of boiling water). Do you have to hang them up to let them dry? Should I have left them in a pile but covered with a damp towel? I have not had success “googling” this part of pasta making!

  27. alexis

    i made this pretty much as you described and it was amazing! i was nervous about the “raw” noodles going into the dish with the not-so-thick sauce, but everything turned out perfect. everyone said it was the best lasagna they’ve ever had.
    next time i think i’ll add some layers of calabrese salami! thanks again for making me feel like a good cook!!

  28. I made this last night and must have way overloaded it with toppings because the noodles were so soft they provided no texture to the dish. But still tasty! Kind of more like soup dumplings in taste and texture. I rolled them very thin but still only got about four or five layers. I’ll have to try again with less sauce and cottage cheese.

  29. heatherkh

    i cheated and purchased fresh lasagne sheets because i don’t have a roller, and sauteed mushrooms along with the garlic and spinach. but i splurged on san marzano tomatoes for the sauce – DROOL. the lasagna turned out perfect. homemade pasta is on the horizon. thanks!

  30. Deb, I have to ask- is that the Williams Sonoma Imperia pasta machine? And do you like it? I have been coveting pasta makers, especially the ones that are hand-cranked, but the reviews for this one are not so great. What do you think? And really, that lasagna looks to die for! 10 layers?! I don’t know if I can even wrap my head around 7!!

  31. deb

    It is not. It is an Atlas machine, although I don’t think I paid $80 for it, it doesn’t sound like my cheap self. Maybe $60? Maybe they have different models? Or maybe I just blocked it out. It’s very good, though. I see them used everywhere.

  32. YouthBaker

    I admit, I was hesitant about trying this sauce because I thought it would lack flavour but it is the perfect sauce and so simple to make!
    This is it. Cheers!

  33. Rebecca

    When making the lasagna, if you don’t pre boil the pasta, does it take longer to bake in the oven and do you have to make sure that they are on the thinner side? I saw comments that others were successful with not boiling them which makes it much easier but nothing about baking time or pasta thickness.

  34. Ronda

    Thanks for the recipe! I tried it and I can’t believe I made HOMEMADE PASTA!! Tagliatelli. INcredible. I had to try it the following day (raviolis this time) but with the higher humidity I had some problems keeping the layers from sticking together. Extra flour was called for when brushing the sheets. Even with my simple hand-cranked pasta machine, the sheets came out super thin and pliant.

  35. Susan

    I recently purchased an Atlas pasta maker. Now I am all fired up to use it. This receipe, Fresh pasta – Basic tomato sauce, sounds absolutely delish, so I would like to try it tomorrow, however, am not sure about the actual cooking process. How long in the oven and what temp and how lo g do I leave it in the oven? Thank you so much. Hope I hear from you soon. Cheers.

  36. NCchic

    I am home for a while recovering from surgery and want to use the time to do fun things in the kitchen I never have time for. First on that list is making my own pasta! I am wanting to use this recipe, but make noodles with it, and then boil them. So….I am going to roll it out by hand, and then cut into noodle like strips. What do I do after that? Do I hang it somehow to dry….and for how long…and how do I cook them? Thanks to anyone who can help me figure this out!

  37. Katie C.

    You’ve got my mother’s bowls!!!! Where did you find that metal bowl with the ring (there should be a set of three nesting bowls)? My mom had one set from forever. There are three of us, so of course, we fight over who gets them. So far, my sister has them since mom is currently living with her. You would be preserving family peace if you could tell me where to find two more sets!

    Ok, I gotten over my tantrum now. I have to say that you are missing GARLIC in your sauce. I know you have it listed in the ingrediants for the lasagne but it’s not “red gravy” without garlic. My guy and I have made pasta a couple of times now. I think it’s great fun. The taste and texture is so much better when you make it fresh. Since we haven’t done home made lasagne noodles yet, this is going on our to do list.

    p.s. I see you reflected in the bowl.

  38. deb

    Katie — I think it might have come from my great aunt’s (pretty much unused, heh) kitchen. I use it for everything. Why are so few bowls this perfect size with the height, too? I have two but the other one is a newer one (well, a decade newer, still old) and it’s not as heavy.

  39. Katie C.

    Oh well, thanks anyway.

    I was on a cooking streak this weekend. I made Julia’s onion soup and my eyes cried a lot. I also made your spinach quiche with Martha’s crust. It came out great. My guy ate 1/2 of the whole thing with a bowl of the leftover onion soup for lunch yesterday. I looks like I’ll be making it again. I did use lower fat cream cheese, low fat cheddar and fat free half and half (my guy uses it in his coffee). I do this because I have high cholesterol but I still used RB (real buttah)!

  40. Alissa

    Deb–I just made this and the flavor was awesome but my pasta came out obscenely mushy. What did I do wrong? Was the pasta too thin and overcooked? I cooked it for 35 mins (25 mins with foil, 10 without) per Heidi’s instructions at her site.

  41. Alissa

    Deb–I did NOT boil it. Followed the directions to a T but I think that (maybe) I should have let the pasta dry a bit first before assembling. Clearly mushy=overcooked, right?

  42. deb

    So, here’s the thing with lasagna I’ve learned since (this is an oooold recipe, though, it’s what Heidi recommended anyway): You gotta pre-boil the pasta. It sounds weird but I had already kind of guessed that you hadn’t boiled it because pasta dough = mush that won’t stay together, pasta dough that’s been cooked = cohesive noodles. It’s the egg in the pasta; it really needs to be cooked to activate it’s “muscle” powers to hold the pasta together. We presume that the other ingredients will cook the raw pasta and it is sufficient to turn pasta from al dente to cooked. But, the pasta texture is never quite right unless it spends at least a minute or so in boiling water. I hope that makes sense.

  43. Melissa

    I tried making your pasta sauce with sliced shitake mushrooms and it’s the most delicious tomato paste sauce I’ve ever made! Everybody loves it. :)

  44. Ellie

    I made this with Fairway’s fresh lasagna sheets for the pasta and it was excellent. I swapped out the spinach for sautéed mushrooms. I served it with a spinach pesto on the side instead. Big hit — thank you!

  45. Shirley

    Deb, I have been thinking of getting a pasta machine for a while and after reading this blog entry I will be making a purchase soon. Thank you for your influence!

    I’ve often used ordinary dry lasagna noodles, not ‘no-boil’ noodle, and would not bother boiling them because I am too lazy to use another pot and clean it. I would make the sauce a little more liquidy (is there such a word?) than I normally would like and it worked great.

  46. Can you Make this gluten free? I have the same machine and no luck so far. I Love your recipes and just subscribed. Have you heard of Giombatte? My grandmother (from Calabria) made it, my kids loved it growing up. Sauteed onions, celery, garlic, bell peppers, red potatoes with skins on then bite-size slices of sausage! Salt pepper and Italian seasoning and so good. you can add zucchini or whatever. It’s a “spring stew”. i started using slices of Turkey Kielbasa and it’s even better.

  47. We will making machine noodles support you to grow your business worldwide in various aspects. Presently, we do experience to use these noodle maker machines to make good noodles. We have pursued to be good professional technologists as well as to be good business partners for clients.

  48. Nancy A Smith

    I was looking for a pizza tomato sauce recipe and this one came up! Sounds delicious! I’d like to adapt it to use on pizza, maybe just cook down a bit more so it’s thicker — would that work? Or other suggestions?
    Thanks, I always check Smitten Kitchen before I cook almost ANYthing.

  49. Ann

    First off – love this recipe. Have made both the pasta and the sauce many times. Yum. Wondering if you have thoughts on storage of the dough before rolling out – either freezing or keeping in fridge for a few days? I like to involve toddler in some of our cooking – and if I could freeze in portions and thaw as needed to have ready to roll out dough for him it’d maximize the part he finds fun (and spare my sanity a little from the floury mess that is involved every time he’s involved in the dough making part)

    1. deb

      Great question but I do not have a great answer — I’ve actually never refrigerated pasta dough before rolling it out and while it seems like it shouldn’t be an issue, I can’t say for sure. I do think we’d want it back at or close to room temp to roll out.