My Italian family is going to give me flak for writing this, but I’m doing it anyway.
I've eaten a lot of lasagna, and one of my favorite versions is a traditional meat lasagna, or lasagna Bolognese. It's a labor of love that can take all day to make. It's worth it—creamy, meaty, and cheesy all in the same bite—but since the meat sauce is already time-consuming to make, when you add the traditional béchamel on top of it, you’ll be in the kitchen for hours.
So is there a way to save time on the béchamel? Ricotta is a viable substitute, but sometimes when ricotta is baked at high temperatures it becomes grainy and dry. Our test cooks at Cook's Country used a secret ingredient originally found in Cook's Illustrated's Cheese and Tomato Lasagna: cottage cheese.
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Now before you go running, hear me out. I thought it was blasphemous at first, too. But after learning the reasons behind it, I became a believer. (I felt the same way about slathering mayonnaise on the outside of grilled cheese, but I was also proven wrong there.)
Cottage cheese has a bigger curd, which allows it to bake up both pillowy and creamy, much more so than ricotta. Adding a bit of cornstarch to the ricotta and the other cheese sauce ingredients coats the dairy proteins, preventing them from curdling when cooked.
Big Flavors from Italian AmericaAn homage to the generous, gutsy, red-sauced family-style cooking born in Italian-American kitchens from coast to coast. This is food we never tire of—simple, hearty weeknight meals, baked pastas and roasts fit for Sunday dinner, and a baker’s assortment of rustic breads and sweets
The Cook’s Country recipe calls for 1 cup of cottage cheese as the base for a cream sauce you don’t have to cook, essentially mimicking a béchamel. It also calls for a cup of heavy cream, 2 cups of grated Pecorino Romano, and a teaspoon of cornstarch along with some salt, pepper, and minced garlic. Once it’s whisked together, you can layer this quick and easy sauce onto your lasagna.
It’s nontraditional, but it really works. So if you feel like trying something new—and saving some time in the process—give cottage cheese a chance.