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Cheese and Tomato Lasagna

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2016

Why This Recipe Works

While removing both meat and vegetables from lasagna makes it a much simpler affair, it can result in a dish lacking in texture, flavor, and stature. This recipe upgrades each of the components—tomato sauce, cheese, and noodles. Tomato paste, minced anchovies, grated Pecorino Romano, and a dash of sugar boosted the complexity and body of the sauce, while a small can of diced tomatoes added texture. We replaced the usual trio of cheeses with more-flavorful alternatives: We swapped ricotta for cottage cheese (mixed into a no-cook sauce with heavy cream, more Pecorino Romano, and seasonings), mozzarella for fontina, and Parmesan for Pecorino Romano. To give the casserole more structure and bite, we used traditional wavy lasagna noodles, but instead of boiling them, we briefly soaked them in boiling water. Staggering the placement of the noodles in the dish instead of lining them up parallel to one another kept the casserole level.

Ingredients

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Cheese Sauce

4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (2 cups)
8 ounces (1 cup) cottage cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup tomato paste

Lasagna

14 curly-edged lasagna noodles
8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1/8 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

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Instructions

Serves 8

Do not substitute no-boil noodles for regular noodles, as they are too thin. Alternating the noodle arrangement in step 4 keeps the lasagna level. For a vegetarian version, omit the anchovies.

1. FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients in bowl until homogeneous. Set aside.

2. FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE: Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, sugar, pepper flakes, oregano, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and anchovies and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, Pecorino, and tomato paste and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

3. FOR THE LASAGNA: While sauce simmers, lay noodles in 9 by 13-inch baking dish and cover with boiling water. Let noodles soak until pliable, about 15 minutes, separating noodles with tip of paring knife to prevent sticking. Place dish in sink, pour off water, and run cold water over noodles. Pat noodles dry with clean dish towel; dry dish. Cut two noodles in half crosswise.

4. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce in bottom of dish. Lay 3 noodles lengthwise in dish with ends touching 1 short side, leaving space on opposite short side. Lay 1 half noodle crosswise in empty space to create even layer of noodles. Spread half of cheese sauce over noodles, followed by 1/2 cup fontina. Repeat layering of noodles, alternating which short side gets half noodle (alternating sides will prevent lasagna from buckling). Spread 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce over second layer of noodles, followed by 1/2 cup fontina. Create third layer using 3 1/2 noodles (reversing arrangement again), remaining cheese sauce, and ½ cup fontina.

5. Lay remaining 3 1/2 noodles over cheese sauce. Spread remaining tomato sauce over noodles. Toss remaining 1/2 cup fontina with cornstarch, then sprinkle over tomato sauce, followed by Pecorino.

6. Spray sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove lasagna from oven and increase oven temperature to 500 degrees.

7. Remove foil from lasagna, return to oven, and continue to bake until top is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Let lasagna cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with basil, cut into pieces, and serve.