carmela soprano’s basil lasagne

carmela soprano's basil lasagne

“Can’t Carmela make her lasagne with the layer of basil leaves in?”
-Corrado “Uncle Junior” Soprano

I came to The Sopranosfar too late. Early 2008 More4 ran every episode back-to-back and I devoured them all. I was utterly gripped by the boyish yet chilling Tony, the larger-than-life Paulie, sly yet affable Uncle June, the big mouth braggadocio Christopher, and the delicate balance of family life with ‘mafia’ life. It’s easily one of the finest series every created, a masterpiece of character study and beautiful dialogue. If you haven’t tried it, I heartily recommend it.

I also got given the Sopranos cookbooksfor a birthday. It’s a little cheesy, part-written in character, but the heart and soul of Italian-American cookery is there, with it’s hearty and rib-sticking fare. As an existing fan of lasagne, I was keen to try the lasagne-with-layer-of-basil as mentioned in the show (it can be found in this volume).

Like many Italian-American dishes, it requires a ‘gravy’ which is not the meat juice we might expect. Here it’s a meaty, tomatoey sauce that forms the base of lasagne. This takes a good couple of hours so it’s not a dish you can just bash out on a whim, because after that you’ve got lots of layers and another 45 minutes in the oven to finish it off. The gravy is superb though, rich and flavoursome. I’ve kept some back for something else another day.

It was very nice, though for me the ricotta was overpowering, allowing a bitterness into it that wasn’t completely welcome. The basil was nice though, a cleansing aroma that carries through the mouth. But I can’t help missing a bechamel while I was eating it… next time.

Carmela Soprano’s Basil Lasagne:

For the gravy:

6 sausages (if you can get them, Waitrose have incredible ‘Italian’ style sausages)

500g mince

1 onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 litre passata

For the lasagne:

Lasagne sheets

A large bunch of basil

500g ricotta

500g mozzarella, sliced

50g parmesan, grated

  • To make the gravy, fry the onion and garlic until soft in a large pan with a little oil.
  • Skin the sausages and squish into hazelnut size pieces. Add these to the pan and brown all over.
  • Add the mince and continue to cook until browned all over.
  • Add the puree and passata and bring to a simmer. Cook partially covered for 1½ – 2 hours until rich and thickened. At this point check for seasoning – plenty of pepper is welcome here.
  • Beat the ricotta with salt and pepper to taste (you may want to add a splash of milk or cream to help loosen it, as you’re going to spread it in a minute). Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  • In a 6cm deep oven dish put a thin layer of meat sauce on the bottom. Cover with lasagne sheets, then another layer of meat sauce.
  • Top this with ricotta and some parmesan, then a layer of basil leaves. Top this with mozzrella, then lasagne. Start the layering all over again until you reach the top of the dish.
  • Make the top layer meat sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan. Bung in the oven until you can push a knife through with little resistance.
  • Leave the lasagna out for five minutes to allow it all to meld together – this makes it easier to cut up.

Got leftovers? Here’s some advice on how to reheat your lasagne.


  • Layered with basil leaves… hmm.. Now that sounds pretty good! Is this fresh basil leaves or the dried leaves you get in the small spice containers. This is interesting, I have not heard of trying this. This is how my grandmother made lasagna and how I make it and is very hard to deviate because it’s the lasagna I grew up with. I think the Italian recipes you grow up with are always the best because of all the good times attached with them! Try this one if you have the time one day, I highly recommend, but then I am a bit bias since it’s my Italian family recipe 🙂

    Anthony’s Lasagna Recipe

    Of course one thing that people miss in regards to making a very good Lasagna and that is making good sauce to go with it. In my opinion a good lasagna should be made with a sauce that has been cooked with a lot of meat like Meatballs, Sausage and Braciole, that flavor gets into the Lasagna and makes it heavenly!

    Happy cooking, happy times and share the LOVE!

    Ciao, Anthony

    • Hey Anthony,

      This is made with fresh basil. I don’t have a lot of time for dried basil, it smells weird!

      I totally agree about the meat sauce, in the UK we don’t have a tradition of making a good “gravy” as you guys call it. But when you make it with good pork & beef and allow it to break down in the tomato sauce… heavenly!

      Thanks for your grandmother’s version, I will give it a go.


  • Gary,

    Yes, Heavenly is the perfect phrase to explain the experience 🙂 Right, Pork! I forgot to mention the pork. VERY important! I like to fry up salt pork for the pork fat/grease and brown my meatballs in that yummy stuff before adding to the sauce. Heavenly! I also brown some pork chops and throw those in the sauce as well.


  • Wow! I’ve only just got into the Soprano’s (shameful, I know) after getting my boyfriend the boxset for Christmas. We’ve almost finished it, it’s so addictive. I was actually just searching for the Ricotta Pie, Carmela often makes then came across this lasagne. I will be making this tomorrow, thank you.

    • I was late to Sopranos too, don’t worry! Just enjoy the fact that you’re enjoying it now 🙂

      Enjoy the recipe. I will go off looking for ricotta pie now…

  • You got the quote wrong. Junior actually said, “Sweet sausage along with the beef, and a layer of torn fresh basil leaves under the cheese?” and then says “That’s Carmela’s lasagna.”

  • Hey, I have been searching for Carmela’s recipe! Just wondering how big the sausages are? I have never bought whole Italian sausage… is it meant to be the same sort of size as a British banger?

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