A delicious Southern Italian Cheese and Meatball Lasagna (Lasagna Napoletana) with an easy tomato sauce, tiny Parmesan meatballs, and 4 types of cheese: Provolone, Mozzarella, Ricotta, and Parmigiano cheese. An incredible and scrumptious dish that is perfect for a family dinner. Comfort food at its best!
In my family, when we say "Lasagna", we always mean our classic Tuscan Lasagna, the typical Lasagna that is common in Northern Italy (originally from Emilia Romagna), with béchamel and Ragù.
But in Southern Italy, the classic Lasagna is loaded with meat and cheese, delicious and comforting.
This Lasagna is a work of art that requires time, patience, and love. I recommend pairing it with quick and easy appetizers like this Italian Shaved Artichoke Salad, or this Classic Tomato Bruschetta.
The traditional Lasagna Napoletana
The traditional recipe for Lasagna Napoletana (or Neapolitan Lasagna) is a bit more complex than my recipe. But first, let me mention the story of this dish.
This Lasagna is originally from Naples and its surroundings (hence the name). It's usually made for Carnival, the holiday celebrated for Lent. The recipe was created in the 18th century during the Kingdown of Two Sicilies. It was said that King Francesco II absolutely loved this dish, so much that he was also called "Re Lasagna" (King Lasagna).
This recipe is still very popular today, especially in the South of Italy. It also spread its popularity in the United States, thanks to the many immigrants from Naples who made Italian cuisine so famous and loved.
My recipe is a simplified version of the traditional one, which would need a laborious (yet delicious) Neapolitan Ragù. A tomato sauce simmers for 3 hours with sausages, ribs, pork belly, beef muscle, and so on, depending on the family recipe.
The meat will then be minced to make the tiny meatballs and the tomato sauce is used to layer the lasagna.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Meatballs. They are the main star of this Lasagna but feel free to substitute with vegetarian meatballs, made with mushrooms or seitan.
- Provolone. If you cannot find Provolone, you can substitute it with similar cheese, like Scamorza or Fontina. Or try a different cheese entirely, like Edam, Cheddar, or Comtè.
- Tomato Sauce. This tomato sauce is easily made with onions, tomato purée, and basil. But if you want to cut time, you can use your favorite jarred marinara sauce.
- Pasta. I like to use pasta ready for the oven, which means it doesn't need to be pre-boiled. But if you want to be on the safe side and get a perfectly cooked lasagna, you can boil the pasta sheets for 2-3 minutes in boiling water before assembling the lasagna. You can of course also use fresh pasta.
How to make the tiny meatballs
The tiny meatballs are easy to make and super delicious, but a little time-consuming. Feel free to make them in advance and freeze them if you want to cut the time in preparing the Lasagna.
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl (1) (2), then use a teaspoon to scoop out the meat and roll it into tiny balls. You will get about 150 tiny meatballs. (3)
Lay them on a baking sheet, and bake them at 350°F (180°C) for about 20 minutes. (4)
How to make Cheese and Meatball Lasagna
Start by making the tomato sauce. In a pan, drizzle some olive oil and add the chopped onion. Cook for a couple of minutes until translucent.
Then add the tomato purée, and the fresh basil leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer at low heat for about 20 minutes. You can do this while the meatballs bake.
Now that you have all the components ready, you can start assembling your Lasagna.
On a baking dish (I used a 4 qt 12"x9"), spread a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce on the bottom, then layer the pasta.
Now cover the pasta with tomato sauce, and add the Provola cheese, and ricotta in dollops (if you prefer, you can also mix the ricotta with the tomato sauce in advance).
Now add the meatballs, the mozzarella cheese, and grated Parmigiano cheese.
Repeat the layers until you get to the top of the baking dish. Finish the last layer with tomato sauce and all the cheese, with abundant Parmigiano cheese to get a nice crust.
Bake at 410°F (210°C) for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top.
FAQ & Tips
You have many options to cut off time in preparing this Lasagna. You can make the meatballs and tomato sauce in advance and either freeze or keep them in the fridge for a few days. But you can also prepare the whole Lasagna in advance (without baking it) and then keep covered in the fridge for up to 3 days max.
You can portion the leftovers and keep them in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer. I suggest reheating in the microwave and then for a few minutes under the grill to make the crust crunchy again.
You have several options, depending on the type and brand of pasta you buy. Some pasta brands sell dried Lasagna sheets pasta that doesn't need boiling first, while some do. Since in this lasagna there is quite some sauce, you should not have any issues using dried pasta without boiling first, but it's a risky business. If you want to be 100% sure you'll get a perfectly cooked lasagna, I recommend using fresh pasta or to boil the lasagna sheets before using. In general, check the packaging and follow the instructions for the best result.
Related Recipes you might like
If you like this recipe, try also these other delicious lasagna recipes:
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Lasagna Napoletana (Southern Italian Lasagna)
- 1 package Lasagna pasta, see notes
- 1 ½ cup Mozzarella cheese, grated
- 7 oz Provolone cheese, sliced
- 7 tablespoon Parmigiano cheese, grated
For the Meatballs
- 1 lb Ground Meat, half beef half pork
- 1 Garlic clove, minced
- 1 Egg
- ¼ cup Parmigiano cheese, grated
- 3 tablespoon Breadcrumbs
- Black Pepper
For the Tomato Sauce
- ½ cup Onion, chopped
- 1 ½ cup Tomato Purée
- Fresh Basil Leaves
- ½ cup Water
- Black Pepper
- Olive Oil
Make the meatballs
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Add all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well with a fork or preferably with your hands.
- With a teaspoon, scoop out the meatball mixture and roll it into tiny balls between your palms.
- Lay the meatballs on a baking sheet, keeping them at least ½ inch (1-2 cm) apart.
- Bake in the preheated over for about 20 minutes.
Make the tomato sauce
- In a pot, drizzle some olive oil and add the chopped onion. Sauté for a couple of minutes until the onion starts becoming translucent.
- Add the tomato purée, the water, the basil leaves, and season with salt and black pepper.
- Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Assemble the lasagna
- Increase the temperature of the oven to 410°F (210°C).
- On a baking dish (I used a 4 qt 12"x9"), spread a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce on the bottom, then layer the pasta.
- Cover the pasta with tomato sauce, and add the Provola cheese, and ricotta in dollops (if you prefer, you can also mix the ricotta with the tomato sauce in advance).
- Add the meatballs, the mozzarella cheese, and grated Parmigiano cheese.
- Repeat the layers until you get to the top of the baking dish. Finish the last layer with tomato sauce and all the cheese, with abundant Parmigiano cheese to get a nice crust.
- Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.