We all know about lasagna Bolognese, the Northern Italian casserole made with fresh pasta layered with cheese sauce and a slow-cooked meat sauce enriched with cream. But what if I told you that there was another lasagna out there every bit as decadent, involved, rib-sticking, and delicious? I introduce to you Lasagna Napoletana, a lasagna that comes stuffed with an insanely meaty and savory red sauce, small meatballs, slices of sausage, and not one, not two, not even three, but four types of cheese.
Why this recipe works:
- A slow-cooked red sauce picks up tons of flavor from pork ribs.
- The ribs are ground into tender meatballs that are fried crisp before incorporating.
- Four types of cheese—ricotta, mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, and Parmesan—take it over the top.
Note: Any mildly flavored sausage from the butcher will do. If no mild sausages are available, sweet Italian sausages will work. Use only a high quality whole-milk ricotta with no gums or stabilizers, like Calabro. If unavailable, use cottage cheese pulsed in the food processor for 15 seconds in place of the ricotta.
- 3 pounds pork spare ribs (about 1/2 large rack), cut into three to four chunks
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 12 medium cloves garlic, finely minced, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, preferably D.O.P. San Marzano, crushed by hand in a large bowl
- 1 (2- to 3-inch) Parmesan rind
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 1 pound mild sausage, in the casings (see note)
- 2 slices white bread, crusts removed
- 2 large eggs
- 6 ounces Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup picked fresh parsley leaves
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 pound whole-milk ricotta cheese (see note)
- 1 pound fresh or dried lasagna noodles
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2/3 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2/3 pound smoked mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300°F. Season ribs with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add ribs and cook without moving until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Flip and cook until second side is well browned, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Add onions to now-empty dutch oven and cook, scraping up any browned bits, and stirring frequently until just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add 8 cloves garlic and continue cooking until onions and garlic are lightly browned, about 3 minutes longer. Add pepper flakes and oregano and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add wine and cook until nearly completely reduced, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, Parmesan rind, and 3/4 of basil. Return ribs to pot and bring to a simmer. Cover with lid slightly ajar and place in the oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rib bones can be easily pulled from the meat, about 3 hours. Add sausages and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Remove pot from oven and increase oven temperature to 375°F.
Transfer ribs to a bowl, discard bones, and let stand until cool enough to handle. Scrape off excess sauce and return it to the pot. Roughly shred rib meat (there should be about 1 1/2 pounds) and transfer to the work bowl of a food processor.
Process until it forms a finely shredded paste, scraping the sides of the processor as necessary. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add bread, eggs, 3 ounces of Parmesan, remaining 4 cloves garlic, and parsley and process until a smooth paste is formed. Transfer to bowl with meat and fold by hand until homogenous.
Form mixture into 1/2-inch balls using wet hands. You should end up with about 60 meatballs.
Heat vegetable oil in a 10-inch no-stick or cast iron skillet over high heat until it reaches 350°F. Add as many meatballs fit in a single layer, dropping them in gently one at a time. Cook without moving until well browned on first side, about 1 1/2 minutes. Carefully flip and cook until browned all over (meatballs will be very delicate). Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.
Combine ricotta with 1 1/2 cups sauce in a medium bowl. Cook lasagna noodles in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions. Drain on clean kitchen towels. If using no-boil noodles, soak in warm water for 30 minutes to partially hydrate.
Remove the sausages from the sauce and slice into thin disks. Butter the bottom and sides of a lasagna pan. Spread 1/5 of red sauce on bottom of pan and top with a layer of lasagna noodles.
Spread 1/3 of ricotta mixture over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of meatballs, 1/3 of sliced sausage, 1/4 of mozzarella, and 1/4 of smoked mozzarella. Top with another 1/5 of red sauce and a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.
Repeat step 11 two more times. You should have used up all the noodles, meatballs, sausage, and ricotta mixture. Top final layer of noodles with remaining sauce and remaining cheeses. Tear up remaining basil leaves and sprinkle over the top. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until browned and bubbly, about 20 minutes longer. Remove from oven, allow to rest for 10 minutes, slice, and serve.
Dutch oven, food processor, lasagna pan