It's nearly impossible to pinpoint the best part of lasagna. Is it the hearty noodles, rich tomato sauce or gooey, melty cheese? Whatever your favorite part of this classic Italian dish, it's undeniable that the cheese choice impacts the final flavor. Go traditional with ricotta and mozzarella or add rich flavors with alternative cheese options.
Using Ricotta Cheese in a Lasagna Recipe
The standard lasagna recipe usually calls for layers of ricotta cheese. Ricotta is a light, creamy cheese that you spread, unlike mozzarella that you slice or shred. It has a mild flavor, so you can season it with herbs, salt and pepper. Some people also mix Parmesan cheese with the ricotta layer to give it more flavor.
It's a classic lasagna option, but the ricotta cheese can also dry out while the lasagna cooks. Some recipes prevent the cracked, dry ricotta by blending it with egg along with your choice of herbs and seasonings.
A common swap is to use cottage cheese in place of the ricotta. They're both spreadable cheese options, but cottage cheese has a chunkier texture than ricotta. Mascarpone cheese is another similar spreadable cheese you can use alone or mixed with ricotta and Parmesan.
Using Mozzarella Cheese
Classic mozzarella cheese gives your favorite meat or spinach and cheese lasagna the gooey, melted texture. It's an Italian cheese, so the flavors go well together. It's best to use whole-milk mozzarella instead of part skim because it has more flavor.
You can grab shredded mozzarella at the store for quick assembly, but fresh mozzarella adds to the flavor. You can use a grater to shred a ball of fresh mozzarella if it's firm enough. You can also slice the fresh mozzarella thinly and layer it in your lasagna.
The shredded or sliced mozzarella cheese can go in the lasagna as part of your layers. It's also typically the top layer on the lasagna. Finishing the lasagna with mozzarella lets you get a golden, cheesy finish. Use the mozzarella by itself or add other types of shredded cheese for more flavor.
Using Parmesan Cheese
Another classic addition you'll find in many Italian dishes is Parmesan cheese. It's a hard cheese that you need to grate to use. It adds saltiness and nuttiness to your lasagna for more depth of flavor.
Forget the powdery Parmesan you get in a can. Grab a chunk of Parmesan and grate it yourself. Add the Parmesan to your ricotta, sprinkle it between the layers or top your pasta dish with Parmesan.
Using Provolone Cheese
Provolone is a semi-hard Italian cheese that works with lasagna if you're looking for something different. It's similar to mozzarella in terms of texture, but it offers some different flavors. Provolone often has a nutty, salty flavor, which gives the lasagna something extra, but it's still a mild, smooth flavor, so it won't overpower your lasagna.
Using Bechamel Sauce
Bechamel sauce on its own starts as just butter, flour and milk with some seasonings. You can add other ingredients, including cheese, for flavor. Freshly grated Parmesan works well for lasagna.
Bechamel sauce is often used in lasagna to add extra creaminess. It also helps to balance the tomato sauce flavor. It can take the place of the ricotta cheese layer. Bechamel is usually a lighter option than ricotta.
Using Multiple Cheeses
You don't have to choose just one cheese for your lasagna recipe. Combine different types of cheese to create your own custom recipes. Make a three-cheese lasagna with ground beef using mozzarella, ricotta and provolone, for example. You can combine several different varieties of shredded cheeses to use in your layers plus a cheese bechamel sauce for a creamy touch.