Ree Drummond's Secret Weapon Ingredient For Creamy Lasagna

Whether for a family dinner or a potluck with friends, lasagna is a classic comfort food — and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. And while the dish essentially consists of cheesy, saucy layers of tomatoes, pasta noodles, and sometimes meat, there are a number of different recipes and tips to add a different spin, switch up the ingredients, or simply to elevate the taste.

When comparing the lasagna recipes of Ina Garten and Giada De Laurentiis, for example, you can see that the Barefoot Contessa's version contains goat cheese, while De Laurentiis includes a layer of spinach. As for Ree Drummond, her key takeaway involves swapping the more commonly used ricotta cheese for a dairy ingredient that can be a little more divisive: cottage cheese.

While some people dislike the wet, lumpy appearance of cottage cheese, others praise its light, tangy taste. For The Pioneer Woman, it's an essential ingredient for what she believes is The Best Lasagna Ever. And for anyone who might recoil at the mere thought of the bright white curds, Drummond has a few words of reassurance: "You won't even know it's there" (via her official website.)

Cottage cheese adds a creamy tanginess to lasagna

Cottage cheese is a fresh, soft dairy product made by mixing curds (which form when an acid is added to milk) with cream. And there's no doubt that it's having a bit of a moment again, as seen in recipes such as TikTok's viral cottage cheese bread. This is partly due to its reputation as being naturally high in protein and lower in fat than many cheeses.

For cottage cheese fans like Ree Drummond, the ingredient works well in lasagna because it's easy to find, simple to use, and adds a great cheesy, creamy, and tangy taste to the finished dish. Rather than using ricotta (which is made from whey rather than curds), Drummond mixes low-fat cottage cheese with beaten eggs, seasoning, and Parmesan cheese; she likes using Kraft, to make things even easier. She then spreads the mixture directly over the lasagna noodles, before layering it with mozzarella and her meat sauce mixture, and repeating for each layer.

The result is so satisfying, says Drummond, that when she made the dish for her (now) husband, it resulted in him proposing; pretty impressive considering that he apparently didn't even like cottage cheese before that. And the simple switch has won over many more fans who appreciate the flavor and texture the unexpected swap brings to lasagna.

Other ingredient swaps to elevate a basic lasagna recipe

While Ree Drummond's secret weapon to make her lasagna so deliciously creamy is cottage cheese, she also uses a couple of other interesting ingredients, including adding hot breakfast sausage in with her ground beef, and opting for mozzarella slices instead of fresh or shredded versions. But, there are many other ingredient swaps that can also help take lasagna to the next level.

For example, traditional ground beef can be enriched with ground pork or salty, fatty pancetta, while some chefs add veal or chicken livers for even more depth of flavor. Or, try switching the red meat for leaner turkey mince, or bulking out the meat with vegetables (such as mushrooms and bell peppers) for a lighter and more wallet-friendly dish.

For a fishy alternative, a seafood lasagna makes a luxurious dish and uses a mixture of fish and prawns with a rich bechamel sauce. Or ditch the meat and fish altogether for a vegetarian version made with roasted butternut squash and spinach, spicy mushrooms spiked with chile, or shredded sauteed zucchini with tomatoes and ricotta.