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In this Lasagna with Cottage Cheese, supple sheets of fresh lasagna noodles are layered with a meaty, deeply savory sauce and a rich cottage cheese and pecorino Romano filling then topped with a generous layer of creamy mozzarella cheese.
If you know me, you know that when I'm not creating exciting recipes to share with you, I'm poring over cookbooks and websites, reading recipes from the fantastic cooks who inspire me. In one of these quests, I found Regina Schrambling's recipe for lasagna in the New York Times, with more that 5,000 5-star reviews. Making it was an all-day project, but the lasagna was amazing. I wondered: "Can I simplify this without sacrificing the extraordinary flavor?" The answer is a resounding: yes!
Ingredients You Need to Make Lasagna with Cottage Cheese
- Fresh Lasagna Noodles: store-bought or homemade (If you want to make your own, I recommend these easy Homemade Lasagna Noodles made with 5-minute food processor pasta dough.)
- Olive Oil: ideally extra-virgin olive oil
- Onions: red onions for their mild sweetness and color
- Garlic: fresh garlic cloves
- Pancetta: or bacon
- Wine: a dry red wine that you'd enjoying drinking (the flavor will intensify as it cooks down)
- Tomatoes: canned, crushed tomatoes with juice
- Tomato Paste: I love the convenience of the variety that comes in a tube (like this one) so I don't end up with a whole can to deal with.
- Ground Beef: I recommend 15% lean ground beef
- Pecorino Romano Cheese: or parmesan cheese
- Eggs: large or x-large eggs
- Parsley: fresh, flat leaf parsley (Italian parsley)
- Ground Sausage: uncooked sweet Italian sausage or hot Italian sausage or a mixture of the two
- Crushed Red Pepper: omit if using hot Italian sausage
- Cottage Cheese: ideally full-fat cottage cheese
- Mozzarella Cheese: ideally whole milk
Simplified Method, Same Magnificent Flavor
This greatly simplified version of the NYT recipe doesn't sacrifice a thing in flavor or texture. It starts with fresh lasagna noodles. You can buy them at the grocery store or easily make homemade lasagna noodles with my food processor pasta dough recipe (make the dough with 4 ingredients in ten minutes flat) and a crank pasta machine. You don't need to pre-boil these, and they absorb the sauce flavors beautifully.
Then you'll alternate layers of rich, meaty sauce, with pancetta ground beef and Italian sausage, silky, fresh lasagna noodles, and a creamy blend of cottage cheese, pecorino Romano and mozzarella cheese. A final layer of melted mozzarella brings the dish home.
I recommend cottage cheese because, in lasagna, the flavor and texture is superior to the more traditional ricotta. But that's just my opinion. If you prefer ricotta, feel free to use it in the same amount.
Cheese makers separate milk or cream into curds, which are used to make cottage cheese, and whey, which is used to make ricotta. Both are considered fresh, unripened cheese, but the textures are very different. Both are creamy, but ricotta has a dense, fine, grainy texture, while cottage cheese is lumpier. Cottage cheese is sold in both small curd and large curd varieties.
In lasagna, you can substitute cottage cheese for ricotta in an equal, 1:1 ratio.
To avoid watery lasagna when using cottage cheese, use regular, full-fat cottage cheese instead of low fat cottage cheese.
- Noodle Options: If using dried, no-boil noodles, assemble the lasagna according to the recipe, but cook covered with aluminum foil for at least the first 45 minutes to allow the noodles to soak up liquid from the sauce. To use standard lasagna noodles, soak in warm water for 30 minutes or boil according to package directions before layering into lasagna.
- Lazy Day Lasagna Option: For a quick and easy version of this recipe, use 2-3 jars of your favorite bottled marinara sauce (depending on the size of the jars) and start at step 2 of the recipe (combining the meat mixture). Reduce the simmering time in step 3 to 30 minutes then proceed with recipe. Use store-bought fresh noodles, no-boil noodles, or soak standard dried lasagna as directed above.
- Homemade Lasagna Noodle Time Line: If you're making lasagna noodles from scratch, I recommend making Food Processor Pasta Dough (5 minutes flat to make) first and letting it rest for 30-60 minutes at room temperature while you get the sauce going and combine the ground meat mixture and cottage cheese mixture. While your sauce is simmering, roll the noodles out. Then you'll be ready to assemble your lasagna once the sauce is done.
How to Freeze, Thaw and Reheat Lasagna Slices
Since this makes 12 generous servings, you may want to freeze some for easy dinners later. My favorite method for freezing single servings is to place cooled slices on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving a little room on all sides. Freeze until solid and then transfer to a freezer safe plastic bag or other freezer safe container.
The day before you plan to serve, thaw as many slices as you need in a covered baking dish overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, cover baking dish with foil and reheat in an oven preheated to 350˚F for about 30 minutes, or until hot all the way through.
More Must-Try Italian Pastas
How to Make Lasagna with Cottage Cheese
Step 1: Cook onions, ½ of the garlic and pancetta in olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven until onions are translucent and pancetta is lightly browned. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Raise heat and add the wine; cook until nearly evaporated. Add tomatoes and juice; simmer 30 minutes.
Step 2: While the sauce simmers, in a large bowl mix together with your hands: ground beef, ¼ cup of the pecorino Romano cheese, ¼ cup of the chopped parsley, remaining minced garlic, 2 of the eggs and salt and pepper.
Step 3: Brown Italian sausage and red pepper flakes in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Transfer to sauce with a slotted spoon and discard most of the oil. Cook ground beef mixture, breaking up as you go, until lightly browned, but not quite cooked through. Transfer to sauce and stir. Simmer 45 minutes.
Step 4: Combine cottage cheese, remaining 2 eggs, remaining pecorino Romano cheese and parsley, and ½ of the mozzarella, and salt and pepper in a large bowl.
Step 5: Spoon a thick layer of meat sauce into a 9-by-12-inch baking dish and spread evenly. Cover with one layer of noodles. Spoon ¼ of the remaining sauce evenly over noodles followed by ⅓ of the cottage cheese mixture. Repeat for 2 more layers. Top with a final layer of noodles, and cover with the remaining sauce. Bake in a 350˚F oven 45 minutes.
Step 6: Sprinkle remaining mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake 15 minutes more until cheese has melted. Let stand 15 minutes or more before serving.
Lasagna with Cottage Cheese
- 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 2 medium red onions finely diced
- 4 large garlic cloves minced, divided
- 4 ounces pancetta diced
- 1 ½ cup dry red wine
- 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes with juice
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup warm water
- 8 ounces grated pecorino Romano cheese divided
- 4 large eggs divided
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley divided
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 16 ounces full-fat cottage cheese
- 1 pound grated mozzarella cheese ideally whole milk
- 1 pound fresh lasagna noodles ideally Homemade Lasagna Noodles
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large heavy Dutch oven or kettle over medium-low heat. Add onions, ½ of the garlic and pancetta; cook and stir 8 minutes, or until onions are translucent and pancetta is lightly browned. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium-high and add the wine; cook until mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes along with their juice. Stir in warm water and tomato paste and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- While the sauce simmers, combine ¼ cup of the pecorino Romano cheese, ¼ cup of the chopped parsley, remaining minced garlic and 2 of the eggs in a large bowl. Add ground beef and season with kosher salt and pepper. Combine mixture with your hands until well blended.
- Heat remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add Italian sausage and crushed red pepper flakes; cook and stir until lightly browned. Transfer to clean bowl with a slotted spoon and pour off all but enough oil to coat the bottom. To the same skillet, add ground beef mixture (no need to wipe it out); cook and stir, breaking mixture up until lightly browned, but not quite cooked through. Add browned sausage to mixture in skillet and stir to combine; transfer to sauce. Stir sauce to combine and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Once the sauce has simmered for 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- In a large bowl, combine cottage cheese, remaining 2 eggs, remaining pecorino Romano cheese and parsley, and ½ of the mozzarella. Season mixture with kosher salt and pepper and thoroughly combine.
- Spoon a thick layer of sauce into a 9-by-12-inch lasagna pan and spread evenly. Cover with one layer of noodles. Spoon ¼ of the remaining sauce evenly over noodles followed by ⅓ of the cottage cheese mixture. Repeat for 2 more layers. Top with a final layer of noodles, and cover with the remaining sauce. Bake 45 minutes. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella evenly over the top and bake 15 minutes more until cheese is melted. Let stand 15-30 minutes before serving.