We Asked A Chef: Do You Need To Season Ricotta When Making Lasagna?

An essential component of homemade lasagna is typically ricotta (unless you prefer to use béchamel). The ingredient adds creamy texture and mildly nutty flavors between each layer of the lasagna sheets and rich, meaty sauce. Despite its flavor, many classic lasagna recipes suggest adding Italian seasoning or herbs like parsley for more flavor — but are those mix-ins really necessary? To find out, the Tasting Corner turned to Jasper J. Mirabile Jr., owner and chef at Jasper's Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, and host of "Live! From Jasper's Kitchen Radio."

"I'm on the fence with seasoning ricotta," Mirabile says. "If I do, it's only with salt. Never pepper. I think the ricotta cheese speaks for itself in flavor." The salt will certainly intensify its flavor. In addition to the mildly nutty flavors, one of the other things you should know about ricotta, is that it also has an airy, creamy flavor reminiscent of milk, which allows for the bolder flavors of meat, tomatoes, and garlic to shine. So, those dried herbs you might add to the mixture might get lost anyway.

Consider an egg or cheese in ricotta for lasagna

Even if you agree with Mirabile about ricotta not needing a bunch of seasonings to layer in lasagna, there's a case for mixing in at least an egg or two. Ricotta might dry out during the cooking process, so the eggs will invite moisture into the mixture and act as a binder to hold the cheese together so it doesn't seep out of the sides when you go to slice it. If you are insistent on adding herbs or spices, do so at the same time you beat in the eggs. Easy options are Italian seasoning, garlic powder, fresh parsley, or red pepper flakes for heat. Seasonings or not, consider mixing in some grated Parmesan or shredded mozzarella cheese.

If you have extra time, layer Tasting Corner's homemade ricotta cheese into lasagna for full control of the flavors in the dish. However, if you go with store-bought ricotta, Mirabile has another suggestion. "In Italy, you would never have to strain the cheese, but in America, you need to," he explains. To skirt the strainer, he suggests the brand Grande because it has a "smooth, superfine texture and a fresh, clean flavor [that] is ideal for using in lasagna and baked pasta dishes." To try ricotta in your next lasagna, consider Tasting Corner's mixed mushroom lasagna or white spinach and artichoke lasagna recipes, both of which have ricotta on the ingredients list.