My family has always debated whether lasagna is best when made with cottage cheese or ricotta in the cheese filling. As a kid, my mom always used cottage cheese. We didn’t know what ricotta was. In the Midwest it was considered something sort of “foreign”, maybe vaguely Italian or something. I loved my mom’s lasagna and continued to use her recipe to make lasagna for my family.
Eventually I discovered the seemingly elusive ricotta was simply sold in the dairy case, right next to the cottage cheese. My P.S. had been asking me to use ricotta in my lasagna so I would finally please him, and hopefully not ruin one of our favorite dishes. The result? You probably guessed it, we didn’t really notice a big difference. Ricotta tasted almost the same, it was just a tad more pricey than cottage cheese!
The two cheeses are interchangeable for us. Whichever I use merely depends on which cheese is on hand when we’re in the mood for a pan of lasagna. The only time I definitely use ricotta is when I make lasagna soup. It’s just a little weird if there are floating white curds in the bowl of soup. It looks like somebody vomited a bunch of cheese into the bowl. heh
One lazy Sunday afternoon I wandered into the kitchen to decide what we’d have for dinner. I had about 2# of ground beef to use up and thought maybe something cheesy would be nice. Looking in the cheese drawer in the fridge I found 4 packages of mozzarella, all just past code. Ooops. I needed to make something mozzarella cheesy maxiumus! I also had a lot of cottage cheese to use up. Of course lasagna came to mind.
I started by putting a pot of salted water on to boil and cooked the lasagna noodles to al dente. When they were done I drained and rinsed them in cold water to prevent them from sticking together. Nothing makes lasagna fall apart in shreds faster than stuck together noodles!
While the pasta cooked I browned the ground beef in a large skillet, making sure it browned in places, per usual, for extra flavor.
When the beef was cooked through and broken up into small pieces, I added a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, some oregano, basil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. I let it bubble away for 15 minutes to allow it to reduce down a bit and thicken.
While the beefy sauce was bubbling away and spurting all over my stove (yes I should have used a big pot, not a low sided skillet but hey, I don’t always think ahead!), I mixed the tall carton of cottage cheese with an egg, a small handful of Parmesan, a sprinkle of garlic powder, salt and pepper and a tablespoon of dried parsley. The parsley is mainly for eye appeal, it doesn’t add much in flavor but I still use it.
I pulled out a 9 x 13-in pan and spread a very thin layer of meaty sauce on the bottom. I layered noodles then a layer of the cottage cheese mixture.
I used 1/3 of the meat sauce next, spreading it over the noodles.
A thin layer of parmesan was next. I had one bag and divided it between 3 layers.
With 3 bags of Mozzarella, 2 cups each, this was going to be super cheesy lasagna. I used one bag and sprinkled it over the layer of Parmesan.
Another layer of each: noodles, cottage cheese, Parmesan, meat sauce and Mozzarella and I was ready to lay the top layer of noodles. I spread the last third of the meat sauce over the noodles and spread the last of the Parmesan. The last bag of Mozzarella went on top and I slid the pan into the oven.
The oven was preheated to 350°F and I set the timer for one hour.
At one hour the lasagna was beautifully browned and heated through the center. I stuck a knife into the center and the cheese was melted, telling me it was done.
I covered the pan with foil and let it set for 30 minutes. That’s important with lasagna to let it properly set up and absorb the juices into the pasta layers. The cheese stays warm and molten.
My P.S. came home from his very warm afternoon in the Heritage garden and sniffed the air hopefully. I announced that dinner would be lasagna, when he was showered. I made a quick lettuce, cucumber and avocado salad for each of us and dinner was ready.
I’m not sure I’ve ever made “bad” lasagna, but this one was the best I’ve ever tasted. Maybe it was because we hadn’t had it in quite a while, but it was amazingly good. Made with ground beef instead of our usual Italian sausage and using cottage cheese, it was the comfort food of dreams. And we still had a large pan of leftovers. Life was good.
Cottage Cheese Lasagna
- 1/2 box lasagna; prepare according to box directions (about 18 noodles)
- 2# ground beef
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon basil
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 24 oz carton cottage cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup Parmesan
- sprinkle of garlic powder
- sprinkle of black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- 1 cup Parmesan
- 6 cups Mozzarella; shredded
Prepare pasta in salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water when al dente.
In a large skillet or tall pot, fry beef until browned. Add tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and garlic powder and let simmer for 15 minutes.
Stir egg, 1/3 cup Parmesan, garlic powder, black pepper and parsley into cottage cheese.
Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-in pan. Layer noodles, 1/2 the cottage cheese mixture, 1/3 of the Parmesan, 1/3 of the meat mixture and 2 cups of Mozzarella. Continue with one more layer of each. Top with a layer of noodles, meat sauce and 2 cups of Mozzarella.
Place pan in preheated oven and set timer for 1 hour. Check center with a knife, making sure the cheese is melted in the center.
Remove pan from oven and cover with foil. Let stand for 30 minutes. Cut and serve.