Not-so-secret Secret Lasagna

Lasagna parties started in college many many years ago as an excuse to impress someone I had a crush on.

Sadly, it didn’t end up working, but I did end up perfecting my recipe and making my friends happy as I experimented with lots of different ingredients… mushrooms? Black olives? Tomato paste? Hmmmm. Kalamata olives? Ricotta instead of cottage cheese? Definitely not!

In my 20s lasagna morphed into a Christmas Eve tradition in the spirit of Friendsgiving… friends who couldn’t or didn’t want to go home for the holidays gathered together in a warm kitchen made warmer by decent red wine, loud music and plenty of holiday cheer. And playing Mannheim Steamroller’s Silent Night at midnight and all of us silent as well, trying not to tear up. You can even hear Santa at the end…

As a mom it was all about pulling ingredients OUT so my picky kid would eat it. The bright side is that made it even easier to throw together. 

As an empty nester it’s all about me, which means it’s now gluten-free, includes caramelized onions, and often a layer of fresh spinach so I can pretend it’s healthy. (That’s a common theme if you read many of my recipes. In this case the green stuff cancels out the cheese.)

One ingredient has been a constant after those first few tries loosely based on my mom’s family recipe:

This not-so-secret secret ingredient adds a touch of richness and just a hint of bite. The exact reasons that pepperoni pizza pretty much defines pizza. 

Thankfully this is one time you can’t tell something is gluten-free, and even better you don’t have to cook the noodles. You just layer them on. Another time saver. 

So, here’s one of the simplest, tastiest lasagna recipes ever. But shhhhh, don’t tell anyone else!

• 1 pound 90% lean ground beef (trust me, then you don’t have to pour off the grease)
• 3 oz pepperoni, cut into small pieces 
• 1/2 sweet onion, chopped 
• 32 oz pasta sauce, something like Classico tomato herbs and spices 

• 5 oz fresh spinach 

• 12 gluten-free lasagna noodles 

• 16 oz 4% small curd cottage cheese
• 4 oz hoop cheddar cheese, chunked
• 8 oz shredded mozzarella/provolone blend cheese (or less, depending on how big of a cheesehead you are)

Cook meat, pepperoni and onion in a large pot on medium until cooked all the way through. 

Mix in tomato sauce, adding 1/4 cup of water and a good shake (lid on tight!) to get the last of it out out of the jar, and turn heat to low for a few minutes. Just FYI, without the extra water the uncooked GF noodles can make it too dry. Pro tip: if you have any leftover brewed coffee, use that instead of water. I know, bizarre, but it adds an inexplicable depth to the sauce. 

Pour 1/2 sauce mixture into a glass 9×13” pan and layer on fresh spinach and then 1/2 the noodles.

Spoon the entire carton of cottage cheese on next and top with cheddar cheese and 1/2 mozzarella/provolone.

Layer on remaining noodles, and pour on remaining sauce mixture.

Top with remaining mozzarella/provolone and bake 35 minutes at 375. 

Broil on high for a couple minutes at the end as needed to brown the cheese. 

Let it rest for a few minutes (or it will be soupy) while you inhale that delicious aroma. 

Dish up and enjoy!

PS good luck impressing that special someone… and if it doesn’t work, the lasagna freezes well in individual servings!