Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, is one of our favorite food celebrities. She’s got a TV show, a handful of cookbooks, a restaurant, a hotel, a kitchenware line at Walmart and even a line of packaged comfort foods. With a foodie empire like this, it’s almost hard to remember that Ree got her start blogging more than ten years ago.
As a more recent fan of Ree’s, I was curious what those early days of the Pioneer Woman looked like. Did her first-ever recipes taste just as good as what she’s cooking up now? I dove back into the Pioneer Woman archives and found the first recipe published from June 2007: The Best Lasagna. Ever.
The recipe looked a bit unconventional to me, but I was ready to try it. After all, lasagna is one of my go-to dinners when I’m craving something comfy (which is all the time). So let’s see how this flashback recipe stacks up more than a decade later!
The Pioneer Woman Lasagna Recipe
Ree writes that part of this lasagna’s appeal is that the ingredients are easy to find: “You don’t have to hunt down fresh basil or buffalo mozzarella or Parmigiano-Reggiano or handmade sausage from an Italian mama in old Napoli. Anyone can make this, anywhere, anytime.” And it’s true. I was able to find all I needed at my local grocer without any trouble. Here’s what you need:
- 1½ pounds ground beef
- 1 pound hot breakfast sausage
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 14½-ounce cans whole tomatoes
- 2 6-ounce cans tomato paste
- ¼ cup dried parsley, divided
- 2 tablespoons dried basil
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 3 cups low-fat cottage cheese
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese—Ree specifies the Kraft kind in the shaker jar
- 1 pound sliced mozzarella
- 1 10-ounce box lasagna noodles
First Impressions of Ree’s Lasagna
At first glance, this recipe seems a bit unconventional to me. Kraft parmesan from the jar instead of fresh? Cottage cheese instead of ricotta? Breakfast sausage instead of Italian sausage? Even the butcher asked me if I was sure about Ree’s choice of sausage. But the Pioneer Woman has never led me wrong before. I mean, her go-to comfort foods are practically a list of my favorite meals.
Starting the Sauce
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The first step in Ree’s best lasagna ever is to brown up the ground beef and sausage with some minced garlic. Ree uses a cast-iron skillet, but I opted for a three-quart Dutch oven just to give myself a little more room when stirring. Once the meat is cooked through, strain away about half of the grease.
Then simply stir in your tomato paste and canned tomatoes along with two tablespoons of dried parsley, two tablespoons dried basil and a teaspoon of salt. Let this simmer away on top of the stove for about 45 minutes. The whole tomatoes will start to break down and form a great sauce.
The Filling (and Noodles, Too)
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While that sauce is simmering away, it’s a good time to prep the lasagna noodles. You’ll want the pasta to be al dente since it will continue to cook a bit in the oven. And don’t forget: season the water first!
The filling is just as easy as the meat sauce. Simply beat two eggs and stir together with three cups low-fat cottage, a half cup grated parmesan, two tablespoons of dried parsley and a teaspoon of salt. I’m not a huge fan of cottage cheese myself, but Ree writes that you won’t even know it’s there. I’m trusting her on this one! I’m going to trust her on her recommendation to use Kraft parmesan, too. If the thought of that is just too much for you cheese-lovers, you can use freshly grated parm. I won’t tell.
Putting the Best Lasagna Ever All Together
The next step is putting all the pieces together. Ree doesn’t specify what size pan to use, so I just opted for my trusty 13×9—it’s responsible for all my favorite casseroles. Then, as she instructs, layer four noodles across the bottom of the pan. From here, just spread half the cottage cheese mix on top and spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon. Cover this with half the mozzarella slices. Top with half the meat sauce.
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With that done, just repeat the process again. This time finish it off with a generous sprinkle of that grated parmesan. At this point, you can stash it in the refrigerator to make later (just be sure to use it in a day or two), cover and freeze it or—like I did—dive right in and bake it. Pop it into a 350ºF oven for 20-30 minutes.
How Does this Unconventional Lasagna Taste?
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While this Pioneer Woman lasagna doesn’t taste authentically Italian, it was comforting and satisfying. I was pretty nervous about the cottage cheese, but Ree was right—I didn’t notice it much. What the cottage cheese did provide was an exceptionally creamy texture. And I got plenty of that gooey cheese that I love with the slices of mozzarella. I’m not sure if I got enough flavor from the ground parmesan, so I might make the swap for freshly grated the next time around.
And the breakfast sausage? It was a nice addition! I liked the touch of heat that the hot version of this sausage added and it worked well with the ground beef. Plus, there was more than enough of the meat sauce in this lasagna which made it especially hearty. A small side salad with this lasagna is all you need.
After testing this out, I have to say that Ree knew what she was doing (and still does!). Next, I might have to tackle one of her most-loved potluck dishes.
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