Grab your favorite people and treat them to this rich, creamy Cottage Cheese Lasagna. It’s the tastiest way to say “I love you.”
Early last month, I found myself squished in a tiny counseling room at our local hospital, surrounded by my closest family. We were waiting. My mom was undergoing a heart cath and the surgery had already dragged on longer than expected. My stomach had the requisite knot that seems to be standard for any hospital waiting room. The room was tense, broken up by nervous laughter and the welcome distraction of a happy, clueless one year old.
The Dr. finally walked in, and we all took a moment to search his face for clues. With kind eyes and a warm smile, he informed us mom was recovering after an unusually long and difficult surgery. What was supposed to be a routine heart cath to check for a blockage they weren’t even sure existed had turned into an arduous 3 1/2 hour effort to repair three severe blockages. Our family sat, relieved and stunned, as the Dr. told us he was shocked my mom hadn’t had a heart attack weeks ago. She was an anomaly–a patient whose blood work came back normal, who almost passed two stress tests, and who would’ve been sent home that morning were it not for the unease and intuition of one of the doctors.
Instead, she had surgery. A difficult surgery, but a successful one. I consider it nothing short of a miracle that she didn’t have a heart attack, that they found the blockages when they did, and that they were able to be completely repaired. Holding my mom’s hand that night in the recovery room, I thought of all the cliche phrases you hear in a moment like that, and I felt everyone of them. Life is short and precious. Don’t take it for granted. It’s a gift, and not one we get to keep forever.
No one wishes for these kind of scares, but they do provide you with a conscious gratefulness, the kind you decide to practice rather than just passively feel. The next time you sit at the table together with your family, there’s a little more intentionality, a little more paying attention. Dad’s voice breaks during prayer, and when you raise your head, there’s a sheen in everyone’s eyes. You relish the smell of the dishes being passed, the easy conversation, the light in your mom’s eyes when your son gives her one of his rare, genuine, wet and sloppy kisses.
This Christmas, we’ll be serving mom’s cottage cheese lasagna, a dish she’s been making and sharing for many years. I believe it’s the best lasagna in the world, and that’s not just the post-crisis nostalgia and gratefulness talking. Mom’s lasagna has two things that set it apart from the rest of the pack, and of course, it’s all about the cheese. In this case, cottage cheese and Swiss cheese.
I know you cottage cheese haters are holding back a gag right now, but I promise there’s nothing offensive about cottage cheese lasagna. You don’t really taste the cottage cheese, but it gives the filling a less mushy, more creamy texture, which is something everyone, even the haters, will appreciate.
And then there’s the Swiss cheese. It’s a far cry from traditional, but it works really well. A blend of Swiss and mozzarella has all the sweet, nutty, meltiness a lasagna needs. Even if you’re a teensy bit weirded out by Swiss in your lasagna JUST DO IT. I don’t mean to yell, but it’s important.
Lasagna isn’t exactly known for being easy to make, but this one is definitely manageable for the holidays. I always think of the simmering, stacking, and sprinkling as a labor of love. A casserole dish full of meaty, cheesy lasagna always feels special and extravagant, first because it takes some effort to make and second because it’s unbelievably delicious and comforting. This is the kind of meal that makes you want to gather your loved ones close, hold hands, say grace, and eat together. It’s the kind of dish that fills your belly and your heart. I’d love for you to share mom’s lasagna with your family, and come to the table this holiday season with eyes wide open to the blessings of being together.
Mom's Cottage Cheese Lasagna
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 lb. Italian sausage
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- 24 ounce jar your favorite pasta sauce (I like a marinara)
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
For the filling
- 1 1/2 cups full fat small curd cottage cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
For the lasagna
- 12 lasagna noodles
- 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 2 cups shredded baby Swiss cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
For the sauce and noodles:
- Combine the ground beef, Italian sausage, and onion in a large, deep sauce pan. Cook over medium high heat, breaking apart the meat with a spatula, until no pink remains. Drain any excess fat off the pan, then stir in garlic, pasta sauce, oregano, pepper, and salt. Heat through then reduce heat to low. Allow the sauce to simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a fat pinch of salt and swirl of oil (this helps keep the noodles from sticking.) Add the noodles to the pot and cook for about 2 minutes less than the package directions. Drain noodles then lay them out on aluminum foil so they'll be ready to go later.
For the filling:
- In a medium bowl, stir together the cottage cheese, egg, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Spread a very scant layer of meat sauce on the bottom of the pan. Top with 4 noodles laid lengthwise in the pan. Spread half the cheese on top followed by 4 more noodles. Spread half of the remaining sauce over the noodles. Spread all of the cottage cheese mixture on top of the sauce, followed by 3 more noodles. Finish with the remaining sauce and cheese. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until cheese is melted and browned.