Every now and then, I find a recipe that’s solid gold. The hunt for good recipes is one of my favourite things about cooking; the feeling you get when you take that first bite of an untried recipe’s dish and realise you just made something absolutely scrumptious is the best feeling ever! Then comes the scary second making of that dish. Will it turn out the same? Or was that first successful time a fluke?
Linda’s Lasagna (bless you, Linda!) was one of my early finds. I’ve made it at least five times for various party occasions, and it was unfailingly a hit. Two other friends made it with the same success. The recipe worked for me time and time again, until…I accidentally grabbed a box of no-boil, “oven-ready” lasagna noodles instead of regular noodles (the ones you need to boil first).
It was a disaster. Instead of turning out al dente — perfectly cooked, not-too-soft, not-too-tough —, my lasagna was chewy, with crunchy bits. The top noodle layer was the worst, curled up and stiff as a board. I cringed with every bite, squirming with shame every time my dinner guests insisted that “it’s good!”. It’s not. I’m eating it too, you know. Stop lying to me.
Today, as my lasagna sauce was simmering on the stove, I realised with horror that I’d picked up a box of oven-ready noodles again. Panicking, I turned to Google for help. Surprisingly, there were very few articles about what to do in this situation. Few solutions, but many complaints. Quite a number of people have faced the same issue, and forsworn oven-ready noodles for regular noodles that need to be boiled.
Here’s what I gleaned from the Net:
- Surprisingly, chefs seem to prefer the no-boiled version’s texture and thickness. No-boiled lasagna noodles, when cooked correctly, is thinner and has a texture closer to al dente pasta than regular ones
- Cooking regular lasagna noodles can be messy business. They can stick to each other while in the pot, so you need to stir them occasionally as they’re boiling. It takes about 9 minutes to cook them, depending on the brand. Once they’ve cooked, you need to drain them and immediately separate them. If you leave them in the strainer, they’ll stick together, and are guaranteed to tear when you try to separate them
- You may think that “oven-ready” means you can assemble the lasagna and pop the whole thing into the oven straightaway. Not so! Unless your recipe doesn’t specify the use of oven-ready noodles (and most don’t), steps need to be taken to avoid an undercooked, dry-noodles fiasco. These steps add 30 minutes of noodle preparation, but reduce your sauce cooking time by about half. For most recipes, that means that using oven-ready noodles takes about the same time, overall, as using regular ones. As a bonus, you won’t have an extra pot to wash up
Substituting Regular with Oven-Ready
- Oven-ready noodles absorb up to 50% more liquid than regular, so either increase the amount of liquid (i.e. water) in your sauce by 50%, or reduce the simmering time. For example, I reduced the simmering time for the Linda’s Lasagna sauce from 1 hour to 40 minutes
- Make sure each layer of noodles is in contact with either a moist cheese mixture or the sauce. Don’t let the noodles touch the sides of the pan or overlap, as these edges will be dry and tough after baking
- After assembling the lasagna, let it stand for 30 minutes to allow the noodles to absorb the sauce before putting it in the oven
- Cover the lasagna with aluminium foil before baking. This will trap the moisture inside the casserole dish
There are conflicting opinions about whether you should soak/boil your oven-ready noodles before assembling the lasagna. One Italian chef says never to do it, because your noodles will become soggy. Others advocate it. The way that makes most sense to me is to stand the lasagna for 30 minutes, because your noodles are “soaking” in the warm sauce.
Who knew there’d be so much to say about lasagna noodles? If you’ve got a different method of replacing regular with oven-ready, or have simply been lucky so far when tossing oven-ready noodles in the oven, let me know in the comments!
Most importantly, remember that even after lasagna,