Get ready to fill your bellies with this delicious homemade Italian sausage, mushroom, and spinach lasagna featuring a from-scratch sauce. It’s a great make-ahead meal that freezes and reheats easily, and is perfect for Sunday dinner.
I’ve been making versions of this recipe for decades. A vegetarian friend and I used to make portobello lasagna together for dinner parties when I lived in New Orleans, and it’s been evolving ever since. Back then, we used jarred sauce and minced garlic (cringe!) and sautéed the mushrooms in about a pound of butter. I added sausage first, because I’ve always thought sausage and mushrooms were a match made in heaven, and spinach later on down the road. I learned how to make tomato sauce, that there were more cheeses in the world than shredded mozzarella, and that jarred minced garlic has a metallic aftertaste that no one wants in their food. The recipe you’ll read below has been tweaked to the point of near perfection, and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way.
How to Make Tomato Sauce for Lasagna
Is it absolutely vital that you make your own red sauce for this lasagna? No. If you have a favorite jarred brand, or a local Italian market that sells it premade, feel free to use that here. There’s also no need to be intimidated by making your own, however. If it’s the weekend or you have a little extra time, get out a large heavy-bottomed pot and place it on a burner that works well for simmering. You’ll want to check your cupboards for some basic veggies – definitely onion (or shallot) and garlic, and feel free to add a little bell pepper or eggplant if you happen to have some on hand. I usually use canned tomatoes (preferably San Marzano, peeled), but if you have a garden full feel free to use those instead.
While you finely dice your veggies, warm up your pot to medium and add a glug of olive oil. Add the onions first and sauté for a minute or two, then the bell pepper and/or eggplant if using. Turn the heat down if anything starts to brown, and stir throughout this step. Optional – add your sausage once the onions have softened, about five minutes in. If you won’t have any vegetarians at your table, crumble the sausage into the onion mixture. Stir until browned. Add the garlic and sauté for 20-30 seconds, then pour in a cup or so of red wine. If you prefer to avoid alcohol, a cup of stock (chicken or beef) would be fine here. Let this reduce by half, and for wine make sure you can no longer smell alcohol rising from the pot.
Once the wine has reduced, add your tomatoes. One 28 oz can is sufficient for the lasagna, but feel free to double it – just make sure you double the meat too. You’ll be able to make the lasagna as saucy as you like it, and save some for another use. I squish the peeled tomatoes in my hands as I add them to my sauce, but no need to break them down further. Make sure to add the sauce from the tomatoes as well, and either a can or (my preference) a squirt from a tube of double concentrated tomato paste adds a little more depth of flavor. Add some herbs (thyme, oregano, fresh basil if you have some, and fennel seeds) and salt and pepper to taste. Turn your burner down to low, and let this simmer while you move on with the recipe.
Make the Filling for Lasagna
If you have vegetarians in your family, make the sausage now. Warm your largest sauté pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil and crumble in the sausage. Cook until browned. Move to a colander to drain out any grease, then set aside in a bowl.
Next, cut up your mushrooms. I usually use cremini, but white or blended would work as well. Bite size pieces are the goal rather than slices – for creminis, I typically halve them and then cut each half into thirds. Mushrooms shrink quite a bit when cooking, so you’ll need more than you think. A pound or so is usually sufficient.
When the meat is done and draining, add a good glug of olive oil to the pan (mushrooms are thirsty) and then the ‘shrooms. Sauté for five min or so before salting, then flavor with salt and pepper. While the mushrooms cook, mince up a good quantity of garlic. I love garlic, and use at least half a head. If you don’t, feel free to adjust down. Add to the pan once the mushrooms have softened and stir for around 30 seconds. Check seasonings and salt if needed. I spoon the mushrooms into my colander as well, as they will drain liquid that I don’t want in the finished recipe.
Next, add another glug of oil to your pan. Add 8-9 oz fresh spinach, and sauté over medium-low heat. Add salt and pepper, and stir occasionally until wilted. If you have any garlic left, add a little to the pan and stir for 20-30 seconds. Place your spinach in the colander as well, and press down with a wooden spoon to remove excess moisture. You could also use a package of frozen spinach here, just be very careful to get the extra liquid out at the end. Frozen spinach has a higher water content than fresh, and it will make the finished product watery.
What Kind of Cheese is Best for Lasagna?
I like to use a combination of cheeses. Mozzarella is mandatory, in my opinion, because nothing else melts quite like it. I use both brick (grate it yourself for the best consistency) and fresh, but you can use all fresh if you’d like. You’ll need about a pound grated, and I slice one ball of fresh for the top layer.
Ricotta is also pretty standard, and makes a better lasagna than cottage cheese does. Unfortunately, grocery store ricotta is pretty bland. Buy the full fat version if you have to go this route. If you’re luck enough to have an Italian specialty market where you live, pick some up there. If you’re not, ricotta is actually surprisingly easy to make yourself! Thekitchn.com will walk you through the process here. It’s really important not to use ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk, which eliminates most organic options, and read the fine print on the label. Not all UHT milk is marked as such, so if curds never form, make a note of the brand. That’s probably the reason.
Once you have your ricotta, crack an egg in a medium bowl and beat with a fork. Add the ricotta. Grate about a cup of parmesan cheese and add that to the mixture. Please don’t use the canned stuff, and fresh grated is better than pre-grated in the tub. Add a half teaspoon of nutmeg and mix well with a fork. This will go on top of your noodles.
Assemble and Cook Your Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Lasagna
While the sauce and fillings are cooking away, preheat your oven to 350 and put your biggest pot of water on your hottest burner to boil. Once boiling, add a handful of salt and 10 lasagna noodles (9 for the dish, one extra in case of breakage). Stir to prevent sticking. Boil according to package directions until al dente, and drain. Run cool water over them to prevent further cooking.
Spray a bit of cooking spray into a 9 x 13 pan. Ladle a few spoonfuls of your tomato sauce into the pan, just enough to lightly color the bottom. Top with three lasagna noodles, arranged the long way next to each other in the dish. Dollop several spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture on top of the noodles, and spread. Top with half of your sausage, then mushrooms, then spinach. Ladle half of your remaining sauce. Add several handfuls (about 8 oz) of shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with another three more noodles, and repeat all of your layers. Cover with your last three noodles, a splash of any sauce that might remain, and finish with your sliced fresh mozzarella cheese.
Two 8×8 pans work as well, if you’d like to make one to freeze for later. Just cut the noodles in half. One can be made meatless (or veggie-less) by leaving out the appropriate fillings if needed, or just keep it in the larger pan and only put meat on one side.
Cover the lasagna with foil, and place into a preheated oven. After 30 min, remove the foil. Cook for an additional 10 min or until mozzarella starts to brown. Top with fresh basil, and allow to cool for 10-15 min before serving. Slice and serve with garlic bread and a fresh green salad.
Sausage, Spinach, and Mushroom Lasagna
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot minced (may substitute onion)
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 red bell pepper diced
- 1 cup red wine
- 28 oz canned peeled tomatoes preferably San Marzano
- 2 Tbsp double concentrated tomato paste
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp dried fennel seeds
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 egg
- 15 oz ricotta store-bought or homemade
- 1 cup parmesan freshly grated
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 lb bulk Italian sausage sweet, mild, or spicy
- 1.5 lb cremini mushrooms
- 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6-8 cloves garlic minced
- 1/8 tsp dried thyme
- 8 oz fresh spinach
- 10 lasagna noodles 1 is extra in case of breakage
- 1 lb whole milk mozzarella grated
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella sliced
- 1 oz fresh basil
- Place large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add 1 T olive oil. When hot, add diced shallot (or onion) and bell pepper. Sauté until softened, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, cook for 20 seconds.
- Crumble bulk sausage into mixture and stir. Cook until browned. (SEE NOTE)
- Add red wine. Cook over medium heat until reduced by half and dish no longer smells of alcohol.
- Add tomatoes, straining them through your hands and roughly crushing them as they’re added to the pan. Stir. Add spices and salt and pepper.
- Simmer for at least 30 min, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Once the tomato sauce is simmering, crack an egg into a medium bowl and beat with a fork.
- Add ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg. Mix well with fork.
- Heat large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 2 T olive oil, and add mushrooms (in batches if necessary) once hot. Sauté for 5 min, then salt and pepper to taste. Add thyme, and once nearly done, add minced garlic. Stir frequently while mushrooms cook, and add more oil if necessary. Drain mushrooms in a colander and set aside.
- In same sauté pan, add additional 1 T olive oil. Add spinach, season with salt and pepper. Sauté until wilted. Remove to a colander and press on leaves with a wooden spoon to remove excess moisture. Set aside.
- Boil water in a large stockpot. Salt, and add lasagna noodles. Cook until al dente according to package directions. Drain under cold running water.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Assemble lasagna: Ladle sauce to lightly cover bottom of 9×13 pan. Place 3 noodles into pan lengthwise. Spread half of ricotta mixture over noodles. Top with mushrooms and spinach. Ladle 1/2 of remaining sauce over veggies. Top with 8 oz shredded mozzarella. Place 3 more noodles and repeat. Top with last 3 noodles and any remaining sauce. Cover with foil and bake 45 min.
- Remove foil and top lasagna with sliced fresh mozzarella. Broil x 1 min. Top with fresh basil.
- Allow to cool 10 min, then slice and serve.