Lasagna Noodles: No-Boil, Oven-Ready vs Regular

Today’s “Linda’s Lasagna” made with oven-ready noodles

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:



  • 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,

There’s ARFI.


A Day in the Life Of

The view from my favourite spot on the couch

As I write this, the smell of beef and tomatoes simmering in their own juices fills my apartment. For the perfect Italian ragu (bolognese meat sauce), Marcella Hazan writes in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking:

  1. The meat should not be from too lean a cut; the more marbled it is, the sweeter the ragu will be
  2. Add salt immediately when sautéing the meat to extract its juices for the subsequent benefit of the sauce
  3. Cook the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it from the acidic bite of the latter
  4. Use a pot that retains heat…enameled cast-iron pans (can you say Le Creuset?) or a pot whose heavy bottom is composed of layers of steel alloys are fully satisfactory

And the clincher:

5. Cook, uncovered, at the merest simmer for a long, long time; no less than 3 hours is necessary, more is better

No less than 3 hours, which is why I’m sitting here, blogging at half past midnight with a growling stomach, as my apartment smells more and more delicious.

To distract myself from the hunger pangs, let me tell you about my day. Today was an especially good day to blog about, because I didn’t waste it on (much) Netflix. I wish I could tell you that today was a typical day. Pretend with me that these sorts of days happen more often than the ones where I binge-watch TV shows, a’rite?

I woke up at 11am and shopped around for casserole dishes on Amazon. There’s a pot luck at one of hubby’s classmate’s houses this Thursday, and I’m going to bring my tried-and-tested lasagna. After I bought a set of buttercup-yellow dishes (to match my beloved KitchenAid, with whom I will be reunited in 18 months, God-willing), I actually got out of bed, and lugged my set of Long Earth books + Eragon back to the Free Library of Philadelphia.

I spent an hour browsing the books, trying to make myself borrow something that might improve my craft rather than just going for my favourite authors, and ended up with:

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guinn
Eldest (The Inheritance Cycle Book 2) by Christopher Paolini

…Not so Useful?
The Shopaholic series books 1-8 by Sophie Kinsella
Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Ursula K. Le Guinn is a pretty renowned author of fantasy books, so there’s lots to learn from her. The thing is, I remember reading one of her books as a teen and not liking it. I also don’t like short stories. Her book’s going to be work.

The Inheritance Cycle‘s going to be work as well. Eragon fans, I’m sorry! I liked the first book so little when it came out in 2002 that I never progressed to the second, but I’m giving it another go. I’m going to persevere through the third and fourth as well, because Paolini was only 17 when Eragon was published, and Hollywood made a movie based on his book, and what author doesn’t want that kind of moolah? So I’ll persevere. (By that logic, I should really be re-reading Twilight, but I really, really don’t want to).

The Sophie Kinsella books are going to be my candy.

I  lugged twelve books back home, then I did my homework while watching Sex and the City.  I’m 18 years too late, but I want to see what the fuss is about.

The ragu turned out great! Can you smell that? This is now my favourite bolognese recipe.

Fusili bolognese served with freshly-grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

So let’s see — I went to the library, did my homework, cooked dinner for my husband, and to cap it off,

I blogged!

Now I can crack open Rick Riordan’s latest book, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard Book 2: The Hammer of Thor with a clear conscience. I love it when I’ve been productive.

As always, thanks for checking in on me, and remember — when life gets hard,

There’s ARFI.


Kitchen Capers

Produce aisle, here I come!

The past week of silence is due to the fact that I was at my first residency — I’m officially a grad student now! It was a dense experience, so I’ll save that for another post. But let me just point out that I used an em dash in that first sentence, not a hyphen. I’ve been doing it wrong all my life, so hey! I’m improving already. (Technically I shouldn’t be using bold for emphasis, and that exclamation mark was probably unnecessary, but this is a blog called “always room for ice cream”, so you know I’m not taking this too seriously.)


Today’s post is just me rejoicing over the fact that now the residency’s over and I have more free time, I can finally get down to equipping my kitchen. Aww yesss. In a week we won’t be eating microwave meals and hamburgers and American-ised Asian food, in a week we’ll be able to sit down to a home-cooked Chinese meal, complete with fluffy rice straight out of the rice cooker and vegetables drizzled over with soy sauce. To celebrate, I’m going to use one of my few precious packets of bak kut teh herbs, and I’ll probably also go to that Thai stall I saw in Reading Terminal Market and stock up on some tom yum ingredients. I can’t wait. I’ve got a much more Western tummy than hubby, but even I am starting to feel rice deprivation.

After some light research — thank God for review sites like The Sweethome and cooking guides like The Kitchn and Epicurious — and with an eye always on my budget, here’s a list of my must-haves when setting up kitchen in a small apartment.

Unlike when I was back home, I’m equipping this kitchen with an emphasis on home cooking rather than baking (which I love). Which is why you’re not going to see a KitchenAid stand mixer on this list, though believe me I’m crying inside.

Jenna’s 10 Kitchen Essentials

  1. Chef’s knife
  2. Paring knife
  3. Serrated knife
  4. Wooden chopping blocks (1 for meat, one for produce)
  5. Cast iron Dutch oven
  6. Set of stainless steel pots and pans
  7. Food processor
  8. Baking sheet x 2
  9. Rice cooker
  10. Coffeemaker

If you want to see which ones I picked out, you can check out my Amazon Philly list here. None of the choices were made lightly. Having a budget makes you really consider the value-for-money of the items you’re buying. Every item was chosen after visiting a couple of different review sites as well as a quick read- through of the Amazon customer reviews.

Since I intend to bring most of the items home, I was trying to balance quality with price. So the items on the list aren’t the cheapest ones out there, but neither are they the most expensive ones on the market.

Talk to me:

  1. Did I leave anything out of my kitchen essentials list? Is there a product you think is better than the one I picked?
  2. French Press vs Coffeemaker: Thoughts?

Tell me what you think in the comments section!

Have a great weekend, and remember — there’s ARFI.