How my Swedish dad taught me to make the world’s best lasagna

The world’s best lasagna

My dad’s passing seems so long ago now.  My dad was one of four children and the oldest son in a Swedish family.  My dad’s grandfather immigrated to the United States in the late 1800’s. He stowed away on a ship to find his fortune in America. His brother also came to the US. And settled in Milwaukee and was a barber. There was a sister and mother who also came to the United States, I could go on and on but this is about food.   

 What does this short family tale have to do with my blog? Well, it is because of my dad that I learned to make the best lasagna, ever. I have come across only one other lasagna that is comparable. Not even in Rome can I say theirs is better than mine. 

My dad’s Christmas gift

A well worn cookbook

The sauce simmering

Well we didn’t actually work side by side in the kitchen. He didn’t tell me family secrets to making this lasagna. The recipe came in the form of a cook book. He had given my mother The New McCall’s Cookbook for Christmas in the 70’s.  My copy is well worn, it has pages missing, the glue is brittle and pages are turning yellow. Out of all the buying and purging this one book has remained in my collection. This lasagna recipe is one I make from the book.  And of course over the years I have made this recipe my own. I add a lot more cheese than the recipe calls for. I make the sauce one day and assemble it the next. It must weigh a good 10lbs (even though it feels like 20)!  Even after all these years I still have the original pan. I have been asked for this recipe by many and it’s hard to say that is an old family recipe but since it was from the 70’s that is long ago, right? So now my “secret” family recipe is out! 

The original pan  

Extra cheese, please

Cheesy hot goodness

So this weekend I made it to celebrate his life and to reminisce a little and to be able to say my Swedish father taught me to make the best lasagna in the world.   

This is the lasagna I learned to make because of my dad 

Adapted from The New McCall’s Cookbook


1 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot) 

1/2 pound ground beef extra lean

1 medium onion, finely chopped 

2 cloves garlic (or to your taste)

2 tablespoons sugar, divided use 

1 tablespoon salt 

1-1/2 tablespoons dried basil

1/2 tablespoon fennel seed 

1 tablespoon dried oregano crumbled

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4?cup chopped fresh parsley divided 

4 cups canned tomatoes undrained (or 1 can (2 lb-3 oz) Italian-style tomatoes, undrained) 

2 cans (6 oz each) tomato paste

1/2 cup water 


12 dry lasagna noodles (3/4 of a 1-pound package)

15 ounces ricotta cheese 

1 egg 

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 pound (12 oz) mozzarella cheese thinly sliced

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 


 In a 5-quart Dutch oven, saute sausage, ground beef, onion and garlic; stirring frequently, until well browned; about 20 minutes. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, the basil, fennel seed, pepper and half the parsley; mix well. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and 1/2 cup water; mashing tomatoes with wooden spoon. Bring to boiling; reduce heat; simmer (covered) and stirring occasionally, until thick, about 1 1/2 hours. TO PREPARE THE LASAGNA: In a large pot, cook lasagna noodles until just barely tender. Drain in colander; rinse under cold water. Dry lasagna noodles on a clean, dry towel. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, egg, remaining parsley and 1/2 teaspoon salt; mix. In bottom of 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish, spoon 1 1/2 cups sauce. Layer with 6 lasagna noodles, lengthwise and overlapping, to cover. Spread with half of ricotta mixture; top with third of mozzarella. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of sauce over cheese; sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Repeat layering, starting with 6 lasagna noodles and ending with 1 1/2 cups sauce, sprinkled with Parmesan. Spread remaining sauce; top with rest of mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover with foil; tucking around edge.  Bake 25 minutes; remove foil; bake, uncovered, 25 minutes longer, or until bubbly. Let set 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

 Source: McCall’s Cookbook, 1973

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