Lasagna - Can't Get the Cheese Filling Right

ak0402April 19, 2011

This is about a meat-sauce lasagna (I'm not a fan of the Bechamel lasagna). Most of my lasagna is delicious - the tomato-meat sauce, the noodles, the parmesan-mozzarella topping. All thumbs up. But I can't seem to get the Ricotta cheese filling to be good. It's either too wet and runny, and/or it is bland and tasteless. I mix Ricotta with mozzarella and freshly-grated parmesan, eggs, and chopped parsley or sometimes chopped basil. I have experimented with low-fat and whole-milk Ricotta, and can't tell which is better -they both turn out as I've described. I've tried draining the Ricotta beforehand, but didn't get much liquid out. I know people use locally-made fresh Ricotta, but I have a hard time finding that. The few times I've used fresh Ricotta, I don't see an improvement (filling is still too wet and/or too bland), plus it's expensive.

That runny cheese layer is not pretty in my lasagna. Makes it hard to serve too. I think I'll try next cutting down or omitting the mozzarella from the Ricotta mix, since mozzarella doesn't have much flavor. What do you guys do to make the ricotta layer of the lasagna tasty?

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I skip the ricotta entirely and go with a well-seasoned blend of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan. Having made both ricotta and mozzarella from scratch, the (remaining) water content in the former is much higher, and that might be the source of the excess moisture that seems to be bugging you. I like the way mozzarella melts and glues my lasagna layers together. Personal taste is subjective, but this works for me.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 6:48PM
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Here's what I use in mine:

1 pound fresh spinach, not frozen
1/2 pound Mozzarella cheese
1/2 pound Provolone cheese
1/2 pound Asiago cheese
1/4 pound Parmesan cheese
2 cups ricotta cheese
1-2 eggs
1/2 pound Prosciutto
1/2 cup fresh basil
2 tbsp fresh oregano
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp Cayenne
1/2 tsp salt

The spinach gets microwaved for one minute, allowed to sit for 5 more minutes covered, and then drained in a colander and chopped. I saute the prosciutto for 2-3 minutes and then chop it.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 6:54PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I find a huge difference in whole milk and part skim ricotta. The whole milk type turns into a runny, gooey mess, albeit delicious and the part skim holds it's shape better, which I prefer.
I like the flavor of part skim just fine though.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 7:19PM
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I also use part skim ricotta....I mix a container....which I think is 12 oz, with 2 eggs, about half a cup of grated mozzerella and 1/4 cup of parm...maybe 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley and fresh ground black much? enough!! LOL!
It;s not fact I put it on the noodle layer in "globs"....
And if you cook won't be also need to let the lasagna rest after baking before you cut it....let it rest at least 20 minutes....20 is better. Allows all to firm up and not be runny.
Linda C

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 7:34PM
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I also use part skim ricotta in my lasagna. But I beat the egg into the ricotta before adding some grated Parmesan cheese.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 8:37PM
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My lasagna receives lots of compliments and my cheese layer is similar to lindac's -- I glob it on; it's not runny.

1 pound whole milk ricotta
1 cup (4 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
1 extra large egg
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons sea salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 8:42PM
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My cheese filling has never been runny? That's odd! I think that lasagna is about the simplest dish that I make. I wonder what's going on and why it would be runny? I only use whole milk ricotta or cottage cheese. Maybe you aren't cooking the lasagna long enough. Cooking it cooks the eggs which causes it to set up. My lasagna takes at least 1 1/2 hours to cook.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 10:27PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

To clarify: not too long ago I had to make 12 lasagnas for a church group. They were all the same except I ran out of ricotta and had to buy more. The store only had whole milk type, same brand I was already using, so I bought that. The whole milk lasagnas were made exactly the same as the others and all baked at the same time.

It was interesting to see how the two types set up; the whole milk ones after 20 minutes of "resting" still wouldn't produce nice squares, yet the part skim lasagnas cut nicely into squares and didn't ooze.

As I usually buy part skim I found it interesting to see a side by side comparison. Of course, brands differ and this was based on one brand.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 10:35PM
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I also have a tried and true recipe that is not runny, gets raves, and is fairly easy.....

I use part skim ricotta and I do not add any other cheeses to it; I sprinkle them on top of each layer.

Part skim ricotta
Dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg (the secret ingredients)

Mix them together. Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan, a layer of uncooked lasagne noodles (NOT "no boil"), glob on the ricotta and spread evenly, sprinkle with parm and mozzarella, sauce, repeat, ending with sauce and mozz. Bake at 350 covered for the first hour, uncovered for the last 30 minutes. Let it rest at least 20 minutes before cutting, or it will certainly run.

And, yes, I've followed the discussions here about what kind of noodles to use. All I can say is in my family, going back to my Italian grandparents who arrived on these shores in the 1890s, we've ALWAYS used dry, boxed noodles...well, as soon as they became commercially available, anyway. I didn't know people actually boiled them (even though it says to on the box) until I started reading about it here. No Boil Noodles? Never tried 'em....Completely unnecessary, IMHO.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 10:18AM
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Thanks everyone for all your great tips. I think part-skim ricotta is the way to go. I also will cut down a bit on the mozzarella, since I don't think it adds much flavor, and perhaps it's adding too much moisture. I'll still leave some mozzarella in for texture. Perhaps I'll increase the Parmesan to add sharpness/saltiness. Very intrigued at Shermann's suggestion of the cinnamon/nutmeg; I have always added nutmeg to my Bolognese sauce, but I had thought the nutmeg would get lost in a lasagna so never bothered. As to the noodles, I know people love the no-boil noodles, but I've always found them too starchy, particularly when you need to reheat the lasagna for a second go-round. I use dry noodles, and do boil them, but only to about 1/2-way done before using them in the lasagna. I like the texture I get with that method. Thanks again everybody.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 11:03AM
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It's too late for my input, but I'm also a "low fat" ricotta user, when I use ricotta. It's not often found at my little grocery, so I usually use cottage cheese instead. I think cottage cheese actually has more flavor than ricotta and it melts up the same, no one ever notices a difference.

I've also never put eggs in the filling, and the first time I saw that happen, I was surprised. I was glad to see that my favorite lasagna recipe, posted here, didn't have eggs either.

Joey's Killer Lasagna

Makes eight big portions.
1 medium onion -- chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound Italian sausage -- casings removed and broken up
1/2 pound ground veal
2 cloves garlic -- minced
4 ounces mushrooms -- chopped
15 ounces tomato sauce
12 ounces tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon oregano -- leaves
1 teaspoon basil -- crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 ounces mozzarella cheese -- thinly sliced
1 pound Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
12 ounces lasagna noodles

Saute the chopped onion in the olive oil. Add and cook the ground meats, starting with the sausage, then the beef, then the veal. Add the garlic and mushrooms. Cook. Drain.
Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, wine, water, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, and sugar. Simmer covered for 1-1/2 hours.

Cook the lasagna noodles while sauce is simmering. Use 10 to 16 pieces depending on the width of the noodles. Drain, rinse, drain again.

Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Cover the bottom of the dish with a thin layer of the sauce. Layer: 1/3 of the noodles, 1/3 of the sauce, 1/3 of the Ricotta cheese (in dollops), 1/3 of the Mozzarella. Repeat twice more. Cover with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake uncovered in a 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes, or until bubbly.

OK, now comes my question. How long do you all let your lasagna set before serving so that it can be nicely cut?


    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 11:16AM
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I use part skimmed, extra smooth, Ricotta mixed with some Parmesan, no egg.

I've never had a runny ricotta layer.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 12:52PM
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AK Chicago :

All the Recipes sound good.

I make mine similar to Joey-s but use Sausage and Beef.

And of course my, Spaghetti Sauce.

To eliminate the Water try putting a cheese cloth in a Pasta Strainer and
dump the Ricotta in and let it sit a while .
The water will drain out.

Or you could pull the ends of the cheese cloth up and wrap them .
While holding the top end closed , squeeze the Ricotta.

The water will drain out.

Hope this will help.

If not you can eat at my place on Easter.
Happy Easter !!!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 3:10PM
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Ok, you lost me at hello: "This is about a meat-sauce lasagna (I'm not a fan of the Bechamel lasagna)."

Love the white sauce. Nothing against ricotta of good quality, but when piles of not-so-great cheese stuff a lasagna (or a shell or other pasta) . . . .

What about using a bit less and folding it into your ragu before you assemble the lasagna?

    Bookmark   April 20, 2011 at 10:12PM
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AK Chicago:

I use this brand ( Sorrento-Velvety Smooth )for Lasagna,
Ravioli and my Italian Easter Cheesecake.

Do not know if is available in your area.

I've been using Provolone instead of Mozzerella,
since 1962 in everything , including Pizza.

Has a better flavor and does not get like rubber when it cools a little.

It can be mixed. Make your own blend.

It is very good.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 12:37AM
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The original poster already said that they tried draining the ricotta and it didn't help substantially, but adding it to the sauce is interesting and would save a step in layering, if it works.

Darn it, I made lasagna last night for today's potluck, I'd have tried that...


    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 11:12AM
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I know what the poster said, just thought maybe she drained it another way.

Happy Easter ,

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 10:16PM
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