Lasagna Party! A Fun Way to Feed a Crowd

All photos: Cara Eisenpress

A good holiday spread features cheer, variety, abundance, and deliciousness—all of this is on the table when you host a lasagna party. Let’s break it down: Cheer comes from the stress-free, make-ahead nature of the classic casserole. Abundance and variety—we’re talking four different versions—transform the humble dish from a weeknight dinner into a celebration. And deliciousness? No explanation necessary.

Best of all, a lasagna party can easily be tweaked to allow for lots of different diets, from gluten-free to vegan. That means more guests, and in this case, the more the merrier.

First up, classic margarita lasagna stuffed with fresh marinara, basil leaves, Parmesan, and mozzarella. Next, an earthy vegetarian and gluten-free version made with planks of roasted sweet potato, ricotta, and peppery arugula. For vegans, there’s a cheese-free adaptation with seared mushrooms and caramelized onions, which are swathed in a tangy basil-cashew pesto. Lastly, one for the carnivores: a traditional Bolognese lasagna layered with braised meat, creamy béchamel, and Parmesan. All together, the dishes serve a crowd of at least twenty.

Each dish can be made and assembled early in the day (or the day before), which means there’ll be no last-minute scrambling in the kitchen as guests arrive. Just turn on the oven about 45 minutes before you want to eat, reheat your dishes, and transfer them from stove to table.

Margarita Lasagna
Serves 5-8

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, blended until smooth
1/2 tsp. salt

For assembly:
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, chopped
1/2 lb. low-moisture mozzarella, chopped or grated
1 pound no-boil lasagna noodles 
1 bunch basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

Sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute until barely golden. Add tomatoes and salt, then bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, about 25 minutes. 

Combine the two mozzarellas. In a 9-inch square baking pan, spread enough sauce to cover the bottom. Atop it, layer noodles so that they just barely overlap, then 1/3 cup sauce, then a 1/2 cup of the mozzarella mixture, then basil, then 1/4 cup Parmesan. Repeat until you reach the top of the pan, about 5 layers.

Cover with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake, uncovered, for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese and the edges are brown.

Vegan Lasagna with Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and Cashew Pesto 
Serves 5-8

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, blended until smooth
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

For the cashew pesto:
2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 cup water
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves from 1 large bunch
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil

For the mushrooms:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
20 oz. sliced white mushrooms
Salt

For the onions:
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
Salt to taste

For assembly:
16 oz. no-boil lasagna noodles

Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

Sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, cook just 1 minute until barely golden, then add the tomatoes and salt. Bring mixture to a boil, then cook until the sauce has thickened, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. 

Cashew pesto: Combine all components in a food processor and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of ricotta. Season with salt to taste, adding more as needed. Scrape into a bowl and set aside. (This can be made the night before.)

Mushrooms: Heat a frying pan over high heat. When hot, fill the bottom with olive oil. Layer the pan with enough mushrooms that the bottom is covered, but not overcrowded. Cook until crispy, about 4 minutes, then stir to rearrange them in the pan. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until browned and fragrant. Sprinkle with salt and remove. Repeat with the remaining mushrooms. (If you cook in small batches, you’ll get a better sear.) Combine all batches in a large bowl.

Onions: In a heavy pan warm olive oil over a medium flame. Add onions and cook, stirring every so often, until they sizzle and soften. Turn the flame to low and allow the onions to caramelize. Every 10 minutes, scrape the bottom and redistribute the onions so that they cover the entire surface of the pan. After about 40 minutes, the onions should be brown and sweet. Sprinkle with salt. Combine half of the onions with the mushrooms and keep the other half in their own bowl.

Assembly: Layer the ingredients in a 9” x 13” pan in this order:

1/2 cup sauce
1 layer lasagna noodles, just barely overlapping (break them up to fit the pan)
Half of the cashew mixture
Half of the mushroom-onion mix
1 cup sauce
1 layer pasta
Half of the cashew mixture
Half of the mushroom-onion mix
1 layer pasta
1 cup sauce
Remaining caramelized onions, scattered

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the noodles are cooked. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, until browned on top.

Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Lasagna with Arugula
Serves 5-8

For the “noodles”:
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into planks
Olive oil
Salt

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, blended until smooth
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

For the arugula:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
10 oz. fresh arugula leaves
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
Juice from 1/2 lemon

For the cheese:
1 16-oz. container of whole milk ricotta
1 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, finely chopped
1/2 lb. low-moisture mozzarella, grated
2 eggs
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

"Noodles": Place potatoes in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops of the potatoes with oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until tender, about 30 minutes.

Sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute until barely golden, then add the tomatoes and salt. Bring to a boil, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, about 25 minutes. 

Arugula: In a large saucepan with a lid, sauté the garlic in oil until golden over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium, add the arugula and a splash of water, and mix to combine. Cover the saucepan for 4 minutes, until the leaves are wilted, then remove lid and let any remaining liquid cook off. Add salt and lemon juice, stir, then set aside to cool.

Cheese: Reserve 1 cup of the fresh mozzarella. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, the rest of the mozzarella, the eggs, and lots of pepper. Mix well.

Assembly: Layer the ingredients in a  9” x 13” pan in this order:

1/2 cup sauce
1 layer sweet potatoes
Half of the ricotta cheese filling, spread evenly
Half of the arugula, scattered evenly
1 cup sauce
1 layer sweet potatoes
Half of the ricotta cheese filling
Half of the arugula
1 layer sweet potatoes
1 cup sauce
1 cup mozzarella
Remaining 1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Bake, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes, until brown and bubbly.

Lasagna Bolognese

Serves 12-15

I followed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe with two changes: First, I used no-boil noodles instead of making my own. You’ll want a 16-ounce box. Second, I used substituted one pound of pork and one pound of beef for Smitten Kitchen’s two pounds of beef. Otherwise, this is perfect as written.

Enjoy your lasagna party!

More stories to kick off your get-together:

A party-starting punch that requires no recipe

How to fake a yacht party (even in the winter)

Tips on throwing a stylish holiday party without breaking your budget

What are you serving up this holiday season?