Warning: If you are looking for the style of lasagna with pounds of mozzarella and a thick layer of chalky, dry, ricotta cheese mixture in the middle, you’re in the wrong place. This turkey lasagna recipe is all about lots of thin layers of meaty turkey sauce, the SILKIEST nutmeg-scented bechamel, and of course–tender sheets of pasta. It’s my favourite lasagna and I think it might become yours too!
This is not the lasagna I grew up with. The quintessential lasagna of my youth was made with ripply boxed lasagna sheets, (not that there’s anything wrong with that) separating three to four thick layers of beefy sauce, mozzarella cheese, and a good half-inch section of a mixture made with ricotta (or cottage cheese), chopped frozen spinach, and a beaten egg.
Which reminds me I should mention there is no mozzarella cheese in this turkey lasagna either.
My Lasagna Epiphany
When I travelled to Italy in my 20’s, my lasagna ideals shifted. I wish I could remember the name of the particular trattoria in Bologna I was sitting at when it all changed. As I sat there, enjoying my wine, there were some pretty intoxicating smells coming from the kitchen that I couldn’t put my finger on. All I was thinking was, “what are they cooking in there? How does it smell so good? I have NO idea how to create whatever that is!”
When the lasagna arrived at my table, I was momentarily unenthused. This thing was like, a very boring looking square of what looked like dry, crumbly meat, pasta sheets, and not much else. There was no bright red puddle of sauce surrounding it, no gooey cheese, no garnishes of any kind. I thought I’d been duped.
And then I took a bite.
And it was perfect. A harmony of rich, deep, cooked-all-day meaty ragout, between many layers of tender, thin pasta sheets, and the silkiest bechamel sauce. If there was any cheese in there whatsoever, it was only there to lend a nutty aroma. It didn’t interrupt the flow–as thick cheese layers tend to do.
For this recipe, I wanted to recreate my Bolognese lasagna experience with a slightly lightened-up twist.
Lasagna is really more like three recipes in one. It’s the hearty red sauce, the creamy bechamel sauce, and the pasta–all of which can be made way ahead of time. The only other component is 1 cup grated parmesan cheese–which I like to “grate” (grind) in a blender or food processor.
I won’t dive too deep into the ins and outs of homemade pasta here, and you can certainly achieve success by using a good store-bought brand of dry or fresh lasagna sheets. (Gluten free or whole wheat lasagna sheets work too!) I personally love the kind that you don’t have to boil, as boiling lasagna sheets is a huge pain.
If you are going to make your own lasagna noodles, you’ll need a three-egg batch for this lasagna. That means three eggs to 300 grams of flour (all purpose is fine). The dough gets rolled out to a #8 on your pasta roller. Protect your pasta sheets by laying them out on a tea towel-lined baking sheet with lots of flour between each one so they don’t stick together. We’re going to cook them on an as-needed basis during assembly.
Ground Turkey Sauce for Lasagna
I love this ground turkey pasta sauce for lasagna because it is super flavourful, full of veggies and lean turkey, and doesn’t take all day to cook. It’s made with lean ground turkey which gets a flavour boost from fennel seeds, and a moisture boost from loads of juicy zucchini. A couple tablespoons of fennel seeds provide flavour reminiscent of turkey sausage, while is splendid.
Silky Bechamel Sauce
Absolutely nothing beats bechamel for lasagna. It’s like layers of silk! I don’t use the word “mouthfeel” very often, but bechamel sauce sure makes for a really good one.
This lasagna recipe needs about 3 cups of bechamel. For this I make a roux from 5 Tbsp each butter and flour, then add 750ml of warm whole milk. To jazz it up I add a generous grating of nutmeg, a hefty pinch of salt, and ground black pepper. Once in a while I’ll add a smashed garlic clove, but not always.
Assembling the Turkey Lasagna
The name of the game here is really to get as many layers as possible. I aim for a minimum of 5, but by practicing good noodle-economics I have managed to get up to 7 before. I think lasagna is best when the layers are thin and delicate. It’s a pasta dish after all, there should be lots of pasta in it!
I always start with a well-oiled baking dish–for me that’s usually a casserole or brownie tin. I spread a spoonful of turkey sauce in the bottom to prevent noodle suction. While I’m preparing the baking dish, I’ll start boiling the noodles. Two at a time, for 1-2 minutes each. You can’t stack them or pile them up haphazardly once they’re cooked, which is why working in small batches is much more manageable.
I like the first layer of pasta to creep up the sides a bit, as it helps those corner pieces hold together. After the initial oiling/saucing of that bottom layer, the order of assembly goes like this:
- Cooked lasagna sheets
- Turkey tomato sauce
- Bechamel sauce
- A sprinkle of parmesan
I think it’s really important to end with a generous layer of bechamel and a light sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top. It gives the lasagna a beautiful golden crust. Sometimes I add a garnish of fresh herb leaves like fresh basil leaves on the very top. This little flourish makes it look pretty special when it’s done!
Baking the lasagna
I like to cover my lasagna with an oiled piece of parchment over the top, followed by a tightly wrapped lid of tin foil. A chef I once worked for always insisted that tinfoil be placed shiny side down–as its shine reflected more heat onto the food. I don’t think it makes much of a difference, but I’ve done it this way ever since.
To bake this turkey lasagna right away, fire it into a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes covered, then remove the parchment paper and foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes. If you’re refrigerating it to bake later that day or the next day, pull it from the fridge an hour or so before you bake it so it’s not super cold going into the oven.
Try to resist cutting into it for a good 20-30 minutes after pulling it from the oven. Your pieces will be so much more uniform and the layers will be so much more distinct and beautiful!
I hope you love this lasagna as much as I do! You won’t be missing that ricotta mixture I promise! I can’t wait to see how yours turns out. Tag me at @howtomakedinner when you make it!