The Ricotta Alternative You Should Try When Making Lasagna

Part of the appeal of lasagna is the copious amounts of cheese, much of which comes in the form of ricotta. This airy yet creamy Italian staple gives the dish an amazing rich texture, yet its mild flavor also allows the other ingredients to shine. However, using other cheeses in its place can make for a memorable spin on the norm, especially if your favorite brand of ricotta is out of stock at the store. Try reaching for a tub of cream cheese the next time you whip up this crowd-friendly meal.

Because cream cheese is made with cream instead of milk, and is substantially denser than ricotta, you probably don't want to use it in the same quantities. Use about a tablespoon of cream cheese for each individual portion of lasagna. If the casserole can be cut into six equal pieces, six dollops of cream cheese layered between the noodles and sauce should be plenty.

You can also use mascarpone, an Italian cheese that's similar to cream cheese. Either way, the result will be a richer, creamier lasagna that makes this comfort food even more satisfying. If you do use cream or mascarpone cheese, soften them first by leaving them out of the fridge for a bit. Both fairly stiff when cold, and won't spread as easily as ricotta does. If you like the cream cheese addition, don't be afraid to experiment with other soft cheeses, as well.

Get creative with your lasagna cheeses

Cream cheese makes lasagna more creamy and rich than the slightly leaner ricotta, but it is also fairly mild in flavor, which is why it works as a good substitute. Cottage cheese also works surprisingly well in place of the classic, and is Ree Drummond's secret ingredient for super-creamy lasagna. This cheese is much chunkier than ricotta, but you can easily smooth it out by pulsing it in a blender or food processor. If you'd like to add a stronger flavor to the casserole overall, you can seek out more assertive cheeses.

It may be unconventional, but soft goat cheese or chèvre has a very similar texture to cream cheese, and adds a more intense and interesting tang to the dish. Ina Garten mixes goat cheese with ricotta in her recipe for lasagna with turkey sausage. The stronger cheese enlivens the mild turkey, and could also kick up a spinach lasagne. You could even sprinkle crumbled goat cheese on top of your ricotta filling for pockets of tangy goodness in each slice.

Although it's not as widely-known, quark cheese would be a perfect choice to use in lasagna. The flavor and texture is described as a mix of cream cheese, ricotta, and mascarpone — so basically, the best of all three in one. While super popular in Europe, quark can also be found in some well-stocked American supermarkets or specialty stores, where it might be labeled as "farmer's cheese" or "Amish cheese."