Giada De Laurentiis' Seasoning Trick To Avoid Bland Lasagna Disaster

Truly, what's not to love about lasagna? It's gooey, cheesy, and decadent, with crispy edges, and a creamy interior. It can be hearty and meaty, full to the brim with rich tomato gravy, or layered with bechamel sauce and earthy greens. With so many delectable ingredients, it seems like you can't go wrong, but then why does lasagna, layered high with luscious fillings, so often fall flat?

Giada De Laurentiis tells Bon Appétit that it all comes down to seasoning. There is no way a whole lasagna is going to emerge from the oven delicious and flavorful if you do not season each layer. Each component of lasagna should be able to stand on its own. By paying attention to every part of a lasagna individually — sauce, noodles, cheeses, creamy elements, and vegetables — you can avoid yet another sad, bland, and watery baked disaster. To make lasagna well, it takes a lot of attention to detail. The good news is that the components of lasagna are pretty straightforward — there are just a lot of them.

Let's start with the noodles

While you may be tempted to use oven-ready noodles for the sake of ease, that's a lasagna shortcut pro chefs won't touch. They are bland and texturally subpar compared to classic lasagna noodles. Buying lasagna ingredients is a good time to splurge on higher-quality dried pasta or even fresh noodles. If using fresh pasta, you do not need to precook the sheets as you do with dried noodles. Just like with any dried pasta, seasoning the water heavily is imperative. Salt gives even dried pasta excellent flavor.

Cook to a few minutes shy of al dente since the pasta will cook again for a significant amount of time in the oven. Some recipes even suggest cooking the pasta for only four or five minutes. Make sure to drain well so as not to introduce excess water to the final dish. You can spread the cooked lasagna noodles on a baking sheet lined with a wire rack or a clean dish towel.

What about the sauce?

As for the tomato sauce, make a standalone hit. Use vegetables like carrots, onions, and celery for flavor plus lots of garlic and herbs. If making a meat sauce, brown and season the ground meat before adding the tomatoes. Incorporate tomato paste for thickness, and make sure to reduce the sauce as a thicker tomato sauce works better for lasagna. Even when using a jarred sauce, make sure to taste for salt. To quickly amp up the flavor, heat it on the stove and add a splash of red or white wine, and fresh basil or parsley — no chopping needed. Additionally, if incorporating any vegetables for a lasagna layer like kale, spinach, bell peppers, mushrooms, summer squash, or eggplant, sautee and season them so that they are tasty on their own.

Béchamel sauce is another common feature in lasagnas, and can easily be terribly bland. A classic béchamel simply thickens whole milk with a butter and flour roux. Season liberally with salt and white pepper, and add a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg for depth of flavor (and no, you shouldn't worry about nutmeg's hallucinatory effects). As with any sauce, taste it to make sure the flavor is well-rounded.

Don't forget the cheese!

While some cheeses that make frequent appearances in lasagna are quite flavorful, others are pretty bland and need some accompanying ingredients to boost the taste. Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano are salty and can certainly act as salt stand-ins to a certain extent. Use these in conjunction with a more mild cheese like mozzarella, fresh or low-moisture for that extra pull.

Ricotta is another common lasagna ingredient and definitely needs to be flavored. Salt content will vary by brand, so start by tasting and salt as needed. You can add fresh or dried herbs, red pepper flakes, or black pepper to flavor fresh ricotta. Eggs are also a common addition to the ricotta portion as they add richness and help with the structure of the dish once baked. Now that you have generously seasoned each part of a lasagna, it's time to layer it up. Divide each component evenly so that they all are notable in every bite, and bake until bubbly. Buon appetito!