"Goodness, gracious, great balls of" beef lasagna recipe

STEPS 11 INGREDIENTS 17 (inc. oil & salt) TIME 2 HRS

This beef lasagna recipe is a different take on a dish like Laura’s meat lasagna, because instead of mince or ground meat it’s packed with Italian meatballs!

This kind of calorific wallop should be illegal! But luckily for us it isn’t…


Now this ‘balls of beef’ lasagna recipe isn’t quick - so maybe attack it at the weekend - but your fellow eaters will seriously savour the succulence of this high-rise molten beauty.

Too busy to spare 2 hours? Why not…

- Complete this beef lasagna recipe’s sauce and meatballs (around 1 hour) then freeze them…

… then defrost these later and just build & cook your meatball lasagna feast (I explain where to cook up to in this recipe).

Serves 4

Ingredients: (For a printable PDF shopping list click here, or right-click this link and choose 'Save target/link as' to save the list for later.)

100g/3.5oz minced/ground beef

1 egg

300g/10.5oz hard crusty bread (a little stale if possible, but not mouldy!)

Small tin of dried breadcrumbs (for top-up). A good one to keep in your cupboard.

4 x 395g/14oz tins of plum tomatoes

20 fresh, washed basil leaves

1 glass of full-bodied red wine

1 medium-sized onion (red or white)

1 stick of washed celery

1 medium-sized carrot

Tomato paste/purée (not essential)

Salt & pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

15-20 long sheets of packet lasagna (roughly one 500g/17.5oz packet). Choose any type but don’t mix types - they cook at different speeds!

2 balls of standard mozzarella cheese (avoid ‘buffalo’ mozzarella – it’s too soft for cooking)

100g/3.5oz parmesan cheese


Big deep pan/skillet with lid (ceramic is best but don’t stress)

Vegetable peeler

Mixing bowl

Large deep oven dish (I use a 30cm/12-inch oval) or lasagna pan (this Cuisinart is a great buy)

Cheese grater

Food mixer/blender (not essential, but I recommend this handheld mixer)


STEP 1 – Hack your bread into 2 or 3 pieces and pop this in a bowl of room temperature water to soak for 5 minutes.

If the bread splurges through your fingers (lovely!) when you squeeze it, it’s ready.

STEP 2 – While the bread soaks, throw the egg, minced beef, 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan and 2 teaspoons of salt into your mixing bowl.

STEP 3 – When the bread is soaked through, squeeze out its excess water, add this to the mixing bowl and mix it all together with your hands.

Now… Keep doing this until all the bread is broken up and mixed in. The overall consistency should be moist but not sticky. If it’s still too sticky, sprinkle over a few dried breadcrumbs, mix again and repeat as necessary.

STEP 4 – Now the creative cooking bit… namely making authentic Italian meatballs!


Just grab a tiny bit of mixture, and roll into a ball by rolling it with your hands.

Size-wise, aim for small balls of ¾ or even just ½-inch diameter. (When I’m following this ‘balls of beef’ lasagna recipe’ I aim for 12 meatballs per layer of lasagna – aiming for an ideal 6 layers.)


STEP 5 - Peel the onion and carrot. Chop the ends of these veg and the celery.

- If you have an electric food mixer/blender, roughly chop these 3 veg with a sharp knife then blend them for just a few seconds. (We’re not looking for smooth veggie paste, but a slightly rougher mixture.)

- If you don’t have a mixer, chop these veg as finely as you can instead.

STEP 6 – Cover half the base of your pan with olive oil, and add 2 seriously full tablespoons of the veg mixture.

Note: This 3-veg mixture is a key component of numerous Italian tomato sauces, so you'll find it for instance in my wife Laura's traditional beef lasagna recipe here.

Put this pan on a medium heat hob and fry/stir for 3-4 minutes (until the veg softens and starts to brown).

STEP 7 – Pour in your wine and leave on a medium-high heat for 2 mins. (Aim to evaporate away about half of the wine – getting rid of most of the alcohol but leaving the grape’s taste.)

- Turn down the hob to medium, and add all the tomatoes plus: the rest of the paste/purée, a pinch of pepper, and one pinch of salt for each tomato. Mix thoroughly.

Cover the pan and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should bubble away gently – if not, turn up/down as appropriate.

(This stage is all about softening the tomatoes.)

STEP 8 – Now they should be softer, so use a spoon to break up the tomatoes (not too much – we want this sauce quite ‘rough’).

meatball_tomato_sauce_for_pasta Take off the lid, and leave bubbling on a medium heat for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. But…

After 30 mins… carefully stir in the meatballs.

And taste the sauce... way too sour? Throw in a pinch of sugar to counteract the tomatoes’ acidity.

Note: If you’re making this lasagna over 2 sessions, this sauce making is your last step. So… after the 30 mins, when it has lost its liquidity, cool then freeze the meatball sauce.


STEP 9 - While this beef lasagna recipe's sauce is bubbling away nicely, let’s prepare the other ingredients…

- Chop the 2 balls of mozzarella into very small chunks

- Wash & tear the basil leaves.

STEP 10 - Give the sauce a stir - we want most of the excess liquid to disappear. It should be there by now.

Turn on the oven to preheat it to 180C.

Now let’s get this lasagna built!

- Dribble a little tomato sauce around the bottom of your oven dish; just stain it really, don’t use much.

- Cover with a single layer of lasagna sheets. (If your dish is round, you’ll need bits of sheets to roughly fill the holes.)

- Cover these sheets with a much fuller layer of sauce, and spread say 12 meatballs across it.


- Evenly distribute a small handful of parmesan, the same of mozzarella chunks and a few basil leaves.

- Repeat and repeat until you’ve almost filled the dish. BUT… do save plenty of sauce for the topping.

Now, the most important part of this entire ‘balls of beef lasagna recipe’…

… the final layer of lasagna sheets should only be covered by sauce (inc. a few meatballs) and parmesan. Nothing else.

STEP 11 – Put the dish in the oven and cook as the lasagna’s packet suggests (usually 20 mins).

Is it ready? Your lasagna is good to eat when you can stick in a toothpick and pull this out without resistance.


Serve: in a medium sized pasta bowl with nothing but fine, well-rounded red wine (available here icon) on the side.

Related ideas…

- Fancy combining Italian meatballs with another sauce? See my meatball-only recipe here, and sauces here.

- Curious about the calories in this beef lasagna recipe and others? See my advisory here.

- Looking to make the perfect lasagna? Use fresh pasta (just make sure to pre-cook fresh sheets before building your lasagna)

- And... do let me know your feedback on this ballsy beef lasagna recipe!

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