Have you ever taken a bite of something and thought, “Why does this taste so good?” Maybe what you taste is a bit of chocolate in chili, a splash of vinegar in soup, or maybe there is an extra anchovy in the Caesar dressing. Simple additions like these can instantly elevate a dish.
My homemade lasagna has a one-ingredient upgrade that does just this. It always leaves my happy guests guessing and after everyone has sufficiently struggled to figure it out, I reveal my secret: My lasagna is delicious because I add nutmeg.
I can’t recall when I started adding nutmeg to my lasagnas—it likely came from seeing someone else do it. I’m a trained chef and recipe developer which means I often experiment with my food. If I think it sounds good or worth a try, I’ll do it. Glad I did because I’ve been adding nutmeg to my lasagna ever since.
When To Add Nutmeg to Lasagna and When Not To
Nutmeg shines in lasagna when it’s added to the ricotta mixture instead of the meat sauce. Since nutmeg is naturally sweet, it brings out the creaminess of the ricotta and improves it in a way that salt alone can’t. Adding just a little makes the ricotta taste comforting, thanks to its warm and nutty flavor.
If you’re feeling unsure about nutmeg, start small. If you’re a fan, increase the amount the next time. I’ve added nutmeg with success to traditional meat lasagnas with ricotta or béchamel, seafood lasagnas, and all kinds of vegetable lasagnas—they’re all better for it!
Can you add nutmeg even if your lasagna recipe doesn’t call for it? Can you wear flippers in the ocean if you want? Of course you can! Nutmeg is lovely with beef and game, but maybe isn’t the best for chicken. As for vegetables, skip nutmeg for lasagnas with spring or summer ingredients like asparagus or artichokes, but bring it on for fall and winter vegetables like butternut squash or kale lasagna!
Fresh vs. Ground Nutmeg: Which Is Best
When it comes to freshly grated or pre-ground spices, I default to whatever I have on hand. There’s no need to complicate things. If I have a whole nutmeg, I’ll use that. If I’m lacking in patience and time, I’ll opt for pre-ground. Either works, but know that freshly ground nutmeg is stronger in flavor than pre-ground, so you’ll need less.
For a traditional meat lasagna, I’ll typically add about 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg to the ricotta mixture. If I’m using freshly ground, I’ll go for half that amount, about 1/8 teaspoon.
What if you accidentally add too much nutmeg? Once the nutmeg is in there, it’s impossible to take out. I recommend you start with 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and give it a taste—do this before you add the raw egg—to see what you think. If it’s too subtle, add another 1/8 teaspoon. That should be enough for a 9×13-inch pan of lasagna.