Christmas Meatball Lasagna
from I LOVE MEATBALLS by Rick Rodgers

This is one of the recipes that introduced me to the “when a meatball is more than a meatball” concept. My friends of Italian heritage always serve lasagna at Christmas, but not the commonplace version with ground meat Bolognese, but one with tiny meatballs lovingly rolled and simmered in the sauce. This sends the clear message that the guests at the table were loved and well worth any extra effort. Here’s the dish that I make when the occasion calls for a very special lasagna.

Note that the meatballs are not browned before adding them to the sauce. This makes deliciously tender meatballs. If you wish, you can saute them in batches in a large skillet with a little olive oil until lightly browned, or bake them in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes. I do prefer the “simmer” method for this recipe, but I am not going to argue with how your grandmother taught you how to make meatballs!
10 to 12servings
10 to 12servings
Tomato Sauce
  • 2tablespoons olive oil
  • 1large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1cup hearty red wine, such as Shiraz
  • One28-ounce can whole tomatoes with added thick puree
  • Two6-ounce cans tomato paste
  • One7-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes
  • 1pound ground round (85% lean)
  • 8ounces ground pork
  • 8ounces ground veal
  • 3/4cup dried Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2teaspoons teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One32-ounce container ricotta cheese
  • 1pound lasagna noodles
  • 1 1/2cups freshly grated Parmigiano (6 ounces)
  • 2large eggs, beaten
  • 1/3cup chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • 1teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2pounds shredded mozzarella cheese (6 cups)
  1. To make the sauce: Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the tomatoes with their puree, 1 cup water, tomato paste, tomato sauce, oregano, and hot pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 1 hour.
  2. To make the meatballs: Combine the ground round, ground pork, ground veal, bread crumbs, 2 of the eggs, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoons of the pepper. Roll into about 32 small meatballs. Place on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet.
  3. A few at a time, gently stir the meatballs into the simmering sauce. Return to the simmer and cook, occasionally giving the sauce a gentle stir, until the sauce is thick and the meatballs show no sign of pink when pierced in the center, about 20 minutes. Set the sauce aside. (The sauce and be prepared up to 2 days ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated, or frozen in airtight containers for up to 1 month.)
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the lasagna noodles and cook, stirring occasionally to be sure the noodles don’t stick to each other, just until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water. (The noodles can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead, tossed with 1 tablespoon olive oil and stored at room temperature.)
  5. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375° F. Lightly oil a 15 by 10-inch baking dish.
  6. For the filling: Mix the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the remaining 2 eggs, with the basil , 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a medium bowl.
  7. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a bowl. Spread about 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in the baking dish. Arrange 5 lasagna noodles (4 horizontally, and 1 vertically), slightly overlapping and cut to fit, in the dish. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, then sprinkle with 3 cups of mozzarella. Scatter half of the meatballs over the cheese, then top with one-third of the tomato sauce. Arrange another 5 noodles in the dish. Cover with the remaining ricotta filling, 3 cups of the remaining mozzarella, the remaining meatballs, then half of the remaining sauce. Top with the remaining noodles, and spread with the remaining tomato sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Cover with aluminum foil. (The lasagna can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated.)
  8. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until bubbling throughout, about 30 minutes more. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.