A layer of sauce will keep lasagna from sticking to the pan.

A homemade lasagna is a window into a person’s soul.

Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic. But if you ask a group of people how they like to make (or eat) a pan of lasagna, you might be surprised by all of the different variations. The basic elements are the same: sauce, cheese, noodles. But after that, lasagna is open to interpretation.

Jarred sauce or homemade? Ricotta cheese, béchamel sauce, or both? Loaded with meat or vegetarian? No-boil noodles, regular dried noodles, or fresh noodles? Deep dish or regular-size baking dish? Topped with an extra layer of sauce or cheese? And those are just the conventional ingredients—for some cooks, lasagna always includes roasted green chiles, or pesto sauce, or shredded chicken. Some people like to roll up the noodles instead of laying them flat.

However you make lasagna, there is one rule you should always follow: Start with sauce. Whether you are using a baking dish or a skillet, there needs to be an even layer of sauce covering the entire bottom of the pan before any of the other ingredients are added. Don’t start layering noodles until you have some sauce underneath. The sauce acts like a barrier between the noodles and the pan, so that the noodles don’t stick to the bottom of the pan as they bake.

Another tip: make sure the lasagna has cooled off a little bit before you cut it into squares for serving. Straight-from-the-oven lasagna is so hot and bubbling that it has a tendency to slide apart when you cut it. Wait at least ten minutes so that the layers have a chance to rest and set. When it’s ready to serve, use a chef’s knife to cut it into squares, then use a flexible spatula to transfer it out of the pan and scoop up any extra sauce or cheese left behind.