This is not the usual lasagne, with a minced meat ragú and cheese sauce that has become so popular all over the world, and which originates from Emilia Romagna. This is the Neapolitan version, and would always be made on special occasions, such as Christmas, a birthday, christening, or any important lunch or dinner. At home, we would make it for Christmas lunch and it was usually a joint effort between the women in our household. They would get together the day before and my mother would make the fresh pasta sheets, my zia Maria the tomato sauce, and my sisters would make the meatballs. Other ingredients would also go in – pieces of salami, chicken livers, mushrooms, grilled vegetables and whatever else was around and in season. It was an extremely rich dish and, as this usually followed an antipasto (starter) and preceded the main course, it was advisable to take just a little piece. These days, I usually make this as a main course and serve it with, perhaps, a green salad.
First make the tomato sauce: heat the olive oil in a large pan, add the onions and sweat until softened. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and basil, reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 25 minutes. Set aside.
To make the meatballs: place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well together. Shape into small balls about the size of walnuts. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan. Dust the meatballs with some flour and fry in the hot oil until golden on all sides. Do this in batches, a few at a time depending on the size of your frying pan. Drain on kitchen paper and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400ºF/gas 6. Line a large ovenproof dish with some of the tomato sauce. Place a layer of pasta sheets on that, then spoon more tomato sauce over. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, arrange on that a few egg slices, a few meatballs, a few knobs of ricotta and some pieces of mozzarella. Top with sheets of pasta and repeat the layers with the remaining ingredients, finishing with tomato sauce, meatballs, eggs and cheeses. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 5 minutes, until the cheese has melted nicely over the top.