Lasagna: there is so much to love about it. It’s cheesy, it’s gooey, it’s a meal in itself, it’s comfort food. It’s easy to make to boot. This was something I could make in my dorm kitchen, following the recipe on the back of the Barilla box. What that recipe lacked in finesse it made up for in cheese. Not that we minded – we were college students starved for a homemade meal, and so we always had fun popping this into the ovens in the dorm kitchens, opening a bottle of wine, and making a meal such that we were the envy of most dorm residents.
Now that I’m out of college though, that cheese-laden flavor-lacking thoroughly Americanized version isn’t going to cut it anymore. And that Souffer stuff? Forgetaboutit. Why oh why would you buy something like that when lasagna is like the easiest thing to make ever??? Anyway, I’d been looking for a good recipe for a several years until this winter when we had a dinner party at my swim coach’s house and my friend Ginger brought a tray of the most fantastic lasagna. It had just the right amount of cheese and wasn’t greasy and had some substantial herbs to it, which is really something that most recipes lack. So what did I do? I asked her for the recipe, of course.
“Oooh, I don’t know, I’ll have to ask my mom about it!” Apparently the lasagna recipe is akin to a state secret: Ginger’s mom worked really hard to develop the recipe (it shows!) and only gave it to her daughters under the condition that they would keep it as proprietary information. Lucky for me though, Carol agreed that it was ok for Ginger to give me the recipe because I had shared my family’s pumpkin cookie with her. Totally a great swap, if you ask me. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have permission to share this recipe on this blog! I’ve modified it only a little bit, because the core premise of the recipe is so solid. It uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta, which I think is a really great idea because it’s really tough to find good ricotta in the States. I absolutely love the sauce that you make for the recipe, and it’s fantastic with either traditional or turkey Italian sausages. I did substitute dried Italian herbs for dried basil because basil’s flavor is so volatile in the presence of heat and the dried version retains so little of the fresh’s flavor – but I just added in the fresh basil later in the recipe. The overall effect of the recipe is a way-less heavy version of the typical lasagna, but still retains all of the flavor that you want.
Thank you so much, Carol, for sharing this recipe with me! You did an awesome job creating this lasagna and I really appreciate being let in on the secret!
Carol’s Bohemian Lasagna
Adapted from a recipe developed by Carol Schultz, a swim buddy’s mom
Serves about 12
This recipe was substantially revised in late-August 2012. If you have an earlier version of the recipe, you may want to update your files.
This is one of those great recipes that is tastier the next day. Adding to the already-existing convenience of lasagna, you can assemble the lasagna up to a day ahead before cooking, or you can assemble and freeze. Adjustments to the cooking time can be found below.
If you’re like me, your sauce ends up fairly chunky so putting it in a thin layer below the noodles is difficult. I’ve found that if you spoon some of the sauce into the pan and push it around the bottom it will coat it pretty well in a later of protective saucy goodness. Remove the chunky bits and use them in another layer where they’ll be better appreciated.
Some varieties of cottage cheese really have a lot of moisture. If you suspect you’re using one of these varieties, ensure that you drain the cheese really well before using it.
2 pounds Italian sausage
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and minced
2 tablespoons dried Italian herbs
One 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, juice reserved and tomatoes chopped or crushed by hand
4-6 ounces tomato paste
Some good red wine (I’ve never measured how much I use, but several glugs ought to do the trick)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 cups cottage cheese (preferably whole-milk)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and thinly sliced (or use perlini, tiny pearl-sized bits of mozzarella)
1 cup of freshly chopped fresh basil leaves
1 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped (optional)
8 ounces lasagna noodles (I like whole wheat or whole spelt varieties)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Over medium heat, brown and drain the meat. Add garlic, Italian herbs, the tomatoes and their juices, and the tomato paste. When everything is well-mixed, add the wine. Simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 35-40 minutes. While the sauce is simmering, fill a stockpot with water and start bringing it to a boil.
Beat eggs in a medium sized bowl. Add pepper, cottage cheese, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and stir well.
When the sauce is nearly ready, drop the lasagna noodles into boiling water and cook. Under-cook the noodles by shaving 3-4 minutes off of the recommended cooking time (the noodles will finish cooking when the lasagna is assembled in the oven). After cooking and draining, drizzle olive oil over the noodles to help prevent them from sticking together.
To assemble the lasagna, spread a small amount of sauce over the bottom of a 9×13-inch pan. Put down a layer of noodles. Spread half the sauce over the noodles and top with half the cottage cheese mixture, half the mozzarella cheese, half of the fresh basil, and half of the kale (if using). Layer on the rest of the noodles, the rest of the cottage cheese mix, mozzarella cheese, basil, kale, and the rest of the meat sauce (note the different order of this layer). Top with the remaining Parmesan.
Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake until cheese is beginning to brown, about 30-40 minutes (bake for 45-55 minutes if assembled then refrigerated or 1:45-2 hours if assembled and frozen), removing the foil at about 25 minutes. After baking, let the pan sit for about 15 minutes before serving. Leftovers can easily be refrigerated or frozen.