White Lasagna with Pesto & Pancetta
This white lasagna is layered with homemade pesto, creamy shallot béchamel, crispy pancetta, and Mozzarella. It’s cozy, cheesy, savory, and one of my favorite recipes to serve at a dinner party!
If ever there was a dinner cure for end-of-winter fatigue, it would be any combination of cheese and carbs. While I am a heavy advocate of any grilled cheese, quesadilla, or pizza situation, my go-to carb and cheese combo of late has been pasta. And while I have definitely had my fair share of standing over the sink eating a combo of all the dredges of pasta I have on hand mixed with butter and lots of Parmesan, sometimes you just need a really good lasagna. Something that takes a couple of hours to make and comes out all bubbly and rich and amazing.
A good lasagna is honestly hard to come by, and my husband’s grandma’s classic Italian lasagna puts many to shame. So for this recipe, I wanted to make things a little lighter. I wanted to cut out the red sauce and use one of my other favorite Italian sauces, pesto. Instead of globs of cheese, we’re making a creamy béchamel. Of course, we’re still adding a few handfuls of cheese, because it is lasagna after all. The result is a cheesy, creamy, flavorful white lasagna that is my new go-to dinner party recipe. Let’s chat about it!
About this pesto white lasagna
I love a classic lasagna. We all love a classic lasagna. But sometimes, we need something less heavy, with less prep, and not so tomato-y. Enter white lasagna. This one is the best. In this recipe, we’re layering noodles with my favorite homemade pesto, shallot béchamel, crispy pancetta, Mozzarella, and Parmesan. If a pasta could wrap you up in a blanket, give you a hug, and make you a mug of tea, this would be the one. It’s so cozy, cheesy, and a huge crowd-pleaser for dinner parties and get-togethers.
Even better, this recipe can be made in advance and reheated when you need it. It makes for plenty of leftovers so that you can spend a whole weekend not cooking and munching on delicious, cheesy pasta. And, it’s not even complicated and takes even less time than traditional lasagna recipes. If you’re in midst of third winter (hi!), let’s make this white lasagna and get cozy and wait for spring to arrive, yes?
The ingredient list
Let’s talk ingredients! To make white lasagna, you will need:
- Fresh basil – for the pesto.
- Pine nuts – walnuts, almonds, or no nuts work too.
- Garlic – just a couple of cloves.
- Olive oil – preferably extra virgin.
- Cheese – Mozzarella and Parmesan, freshly shredded.
- Shallot – chopped sweet onion would work as well.
- Whole milk – to make up the base of our béchamel. It must be whole!
- Pancetta – if you can’t find pancetta, prosciutto or bacon (preferably un-smoked) would work too.
- Lasagna noodles – go with regular, not no-boil.
- Kitchen basics – Kosher salt, black pepper, unsalted butter, and flour.
How to make this dish
Since we’re not making a labor-intensive meat sauce, this recipe actually comes together pretty easily! We’re going to make this recipe in three steps just to keep things simple and help break up the work a bit. Here’s how to make white lasagna with pesto and pancetta!
Make the pesto
- Place the basil in a food processor. Pulse it a few times to break up the leaves.
- Next, add the pine nuts, garlic cloves, and Parmesan. Run the food processor until all of the ingredients are finely minced.
- While the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until everything is smooth and emulsified. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Mix up the béchamel
- Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft, about 3-4 minutes.
- Next, whisk in the flour and stir until it’s nice and smooth.
- Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the milk until the sauce is combined. Stir constantly, cooking until the sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Assemble the white lasagna
- First, spread a layer of the béchamel on the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Then, add one layer of noodles.
- Next, add a few dollops of the pesto. Gently spread it evenly over the noodles with a rubber spatula.
- Add another thin layer of béchamel followed by a sprinkle of pancetta, Mozzarella, and Parmesan.
- Repeat with 2-3 more layers, finishing with a layer of noodles.
- Top with the rest of the béchamel and the remaining Mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Bake at 400°F for 25-30 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the center is hot.
- Let it set for about 10-15 minutes. Cut into 12 slices and serve. Enjoy!
How to make this recipe in advance
One of the best parts about lasagna is that you can make it the night before! White lasagna holds up really well in the fridge, so that all you have to do is heat it up when you’re ready to serve it. To make this recipe in advance, here’s what you’ll do.
- First, make the lasagna as directed up until the point you would bake it. Once it’s completely assembled, cover it with a lid or tin foil. Refrigerate the lasagna for up to 2 days.
- About an hour before you’re ready to bake the lasagna, pull it out of the fridge to warm up at room temp. This is optional but will help it heat quicker.
- Next, bake the lasagna, covered with an oven-safe lid or tinfoil, at 400°F for 45 minutes. Remove the lid or tinfoil and let the white lasagna bake another 15-20 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and a little browned on top. The lasagna is ready when the internal temperature reaches 165°F. (Note: if you don’t warm up the lasagna at room temperature in advance, you may need to let it bake for another 15 minutes or so while it’s covered so that it reaches the correct temperature).
- Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it set for 10-15 minutes. Then, slice and serve!
Storing the leftovers
If you have a lot of leftovers, I would recommend just leaving the slices in the pan you baked the lasagna in. Cover it with a lid or tin foil and set it in the fridge for up to 5 days. On the other hand, if you only have a few slices leftover, just store them in an airtight container rather than the pan.
I would not recommend stacking the slices, because they tend to stick together. Instead, space the slices out a bit so that when you’re ready to reheat, they come apart easily.
Reheating white lasagna will completely depend on how much you are reheating. I almost always recommend reheating it in the oven, because it has a better taste and texture. However, you can also use the microwave in a pinch!
In the oven
If you have a whole lasagna or even half, you’ll definitely want to reheat it in the oven. First, preheat your oven to 350°F. Then, cover the lasagna in a pan with an oven-safe lid or tin foil. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the center is hot and reaches at least 165°F.
If you want to reheat just a slice or two in the oven (definitely my preferred method!), follow the above steps but only bake the lasagna for 15-20 minutes. I like to reheat mine in a small casserole dish with a lid, but any oven-safe dish will work!
In the microwave
If you’re in a hurry and only need to heat a slice or two, the microwave is the way to go. First, place the slices on a microwave-safe plate, and cover them with a damp paper towel. Microwave at full power for one minute. Then, microwave the slices in 30 second increments until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
To complete the meal, serve the lasagna with a couple of side dishes. I like to offer a few side dishes, especially when I’m serving a crowd, so that everyone leaves full and has plenty to eat. Appetizers are also a great idea! Here are a few of my go-tos:
- Garlic bread
- Green salad with Italian-style dressing
- A good white wine – I like Sauvignon Blanc to complement the herbal notes!
- Marinated White Beans with Toast
- Homemade Fruit and Nut Crisps + Za’atar Whipped Feta
- Savory Palmiers with Parmesan & Everything Bagel Spice
- Antipasto Tortellini Pasta Salad
- Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Fried Shallots, Bacon, & Dijon Vinaigrette
- Spring Panzanella Salad
- Kale Salad with Greek Yogurt Caesar Dressing
Boil vs. no-boil noodles
No-boil noodles are a popular ingredient in many lasagna recipes. Basically, they’re pre-boiled during manufacturing so that you can add them straight to lasagna and they soften during the baking process. Regular boil noodles are completely dried during manufacturing and need to be boiled prior to assembling the lasagna.
For this recipe, I would definitely recommend regular boil noodles. No-boil noodles typically work better in lasagnas with looser sauces, like a marinara or saucy bolognese. However, in this recipe, we’re using pesto and béchamel which both tend to be a bit thicker. Because of these thicker sauces, the no-boil noodles won’t get as soft and may lead to noodles with more “bite” to them. While they would probably work in this recipe, they won’t get quite as tender as they would in a traditional lasagna.
If you want to try different ingredients, or even want to make the white lasagna vegetarian, you have a few options! Here are my suggestions:
- Pesto – I definitely like the taste of this lasagna better when it’s made with homemade pesto. However, if you’re pressed for time, or if basil isn’t in season, you can always go with store bought. You’ll just need about 2 cups total.
- Meat – while I can usually find pancetta in grocery stores, it can sometimes be a bit harder to find. Instead, you can always use bacon (preferably unsmoked so it doesn’t add too much of a smoky flavor). You can also use chopped prosciutto. Lastly, try a couple of cups of shredded chicken or a few links of cooked, crumbled Italian sausage. Any would be delicious!
- Veggies – to make this vegetarian, you can either leave out the meat entirely or add some veggies. Try adding a couple of cups of sautéed mushrooms, roasted squash, wilted spinach, and/or cooked bell peppers in place of the meat.
Tips & tricks
- You can halve this recipe by baking it in an 8×8 or 9×9 pan. This is great for a smaller dinner party or weeknight dinner.
- Under-boil the noodles for just a couple of minutes so that they do not get overcooked while baking.
- Use a deep baking pan to ensure that you have plenty of room for all the layers. I like this pan because it’s deep and has a lid which is very helpful in this recipe.
- Don’t add raw veggies to the lasagna. Raw veggies will expel water while baking and will make the lasagna soupy. If you do want to add veggies, make sure to sauté them first and drain out any excess water.
- Always use whole milk Mozzarella for the ultimate richness and melt factor. Part-skim or pre-shredded Mozzarella won’t melt as nicely and can get rubbery.
- Always let the lasagna set for 10-15 minutes so that it doesn’t completely fall apart when you cut and serve.
More Italian recipes you’ll love
Cacio e Pepe Pizza
Creamy Lemon Pasta with Fried Pine Nuts
Bucatini Carbonara with Sausage & Greens
Cacio e Pepe with Fried Shallots
Best Sicilian Pizza + a High-Altitude Version!
Pizza with Soppressata, Basil, & Hot Honey
Marc’s Meatball Subs with Garlic Rolls
If you make this recipe, I would love it if you left a star rating and review! I read every single comment and love hearing what you think about my recipes. Thank you for supporting Sunday Table!
White Lasagna with Pesto & Pancetta
- 2 c fresh basil leaves, packed*
- 3 Tbs pine nuts, toasted and cooled
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 1/2 c Parmesan, grated
- 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 c unsalted butter
- 1 small shallot, finely diced
- 1/2 c all purpose flour
- 4 c whole milk
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 4 c whole milk Mozzarella, freshly grated
- 1/2 c Parmesan, freshly grated
- 1 lb lasagna noodles
- 6 oz pancetta, diced
- Deep 9×13 baking dish
- Place the basil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse it a few times to break up the leaves. Add the pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan and run the food processor until everything is finely minced. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula every once in a while to ensure the mixture is evenly minced.
- While the food processor is running, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the basil mixture until you have a smooth and emulsified pesto sauce.
- Add the salt and black pepper. Pulse a few times to incorporate. Taste and season with more salt, if desired.
- In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until they are soft, 3-4 minutes.
- Stir in the flour. Whisk the roux for about 2 minutes to cook off the raw flour taste.
- Slowly whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth. Stir constantly until the béchamel is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 7-8 minutes. Do not let the sauce come to a full boil. Remove it from the heat and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a deep 9×13 baking dish. Add the shredded Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses to a medium bowl and toss to combine. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the lasagna noodles 1-2 minutes less than al dente (the noodles will continue to cook during baking). Drain and set aside.
- Line a plate with paper towels. Then, cook the pancetta in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it is crispy. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the pancetta onto the paper towels. Discard any remaining fat.**
Assemble the Lasagna
- Spoon about 1/2 cup of the béchamel on the bottom of the 9×13 pan. Add one layer of noodles, cutting the noodles to fill in any nooks and crannies if necessary.
- Top the noodles with a few dollops of the pesto. Use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly across the noodles. Next, spread about 1/2 cup of béchamel over the pesto followed by a sprinkle of pancetta and a handful of the cheese mixture. Repeat this 2-3 more times, finishing with a layer of noodles (make sure to reserve some béchamel and cheese for the top). You should have 3-4 layers total.
- Spread the remaining béchamel on the top layer of noodles. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the top of the sauce.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is bubbly and browned on the edges, and the internal temperature reaches at least 165°F.
- Allow the lasagna to set at room temperature for 10-15 minutes.*** Slice into 12 pieces. Serve and enjoy!
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: Don’t Go by Washed Out