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July 16, 2006

No-boil lasagna noodles (Recipe: Buddy Lasagna) {vegetarian}

Lasagna

I came to lasagna late in life.

During my freshman year in high school, I met Paula, my very first first-generation Italian-American friend. Her mother introduced all of my teen crowd to robust meat-sauce-laden lasagna, and for years I made it her way, with curly-edged pasta rectangles that are parboiled, and a bit slithery. The arrival in the marketplace of no-boil lasagna noodles took the slither out, earning this item a place in The Perfect Pantry.

Although I prefer the flat-edged Barilla brand, those curled borders on most noodles do have a purpose; they act like little retaining walls, holding the sauce in the lasagna. I've also tried Ronzoni, which are pleated like accordions when dry, and relax when cooked. Use whichever brand you prefer.

Here's a bit of interesting lasagna history, from the folks at De Cecco:

Lasagna probably comes from the Latin lagana (which in turn was the Greek laganon, meaning "big flat pasta sheet sliced in strips"). The first evidence of its current use as lasagna comes from the verses of 12th Century Italian poets. "The peppercorn wins/in virtue of the lasagna" Jacopone da Todi wrote, whereas Cecco Angiolieri reproached his readers by saying: "who makes lasagne with other people's flouer/ has nor walls nor moat around his castle".

Though some recipes call for soaking the no-boil noodles in warm water, I interpret no-boil to mean no-fuss, and I use them straight out of the box unless I'm making something that calls for rolled pasta, in which case the noodles do need to be softened. They're much thinner than regular lasagna noodles, and therefore absorb enough liquid from the sauce to "cook" them completely without parboiling — proving once again that there is no such thing as too thin.

Buddy lasagna

Serves 8.

Ingredients

24 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
1-1/4 jars (approximately 35 oz) Mayor’s Own Marinara Sauce (or your favorite bottled or homemade sauce)
2 12-oz packages part-skim mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine ricotta, egg, nutmeg and black pepper in a small bowl. In a 9x13 baking pan,  begin the assembly: spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom. Top with a layer of the dry noodles (you make need to break some to fit them neatly in one layer), then plops of ricotta here and there (use 1/3 of the cheese). Add plops of sauce here and there (use a bit less than 1/3 of the sauce), top with a layer of 1/3 of the mozzarella. Then again: noodles, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella. Then a third time. Finally, add a fourth layer of noodles, and spread the remaining sauce on the noodles. Top with the parmesan cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover, and bake 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven and allow lasagna to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Comments

That recipe sounds good and simplified compared to my family recipe. We add the meat, consisting of pork pieces, hamburg and sausage. Then, we use 3 hardboiled eggs and dice them up to be mixed in with the ragu. The rest is the same, and I do like to use the Barilla no-cook lasagna. I do place the noodles in water so that I don't loose too much sauce. Make sure to drain them well if choosing to do this, one doesn't want to water down the sauce. I will use a Porino sauce (with pork) for the bottom and sides so that there is enough for absorbtion. Why waste all of that good ragu!

Pam

If I make fresh lasagna noodles with my pasta machine, do the noodles have to be dried before using them in a lasagna??
or do they have to be parboiled?

Pauline, I always let fresh noodles dry for a few hours before using them. I'm guessing, but if the noodles are thin enough, you should not have to parboil. I'd still let them dry for a bit, though.

I'll check in Harold McGee's and Shirley Corriher's books, too. They are both primo food scientists and I'm sure will have a more scientific explanation of why fresh pasta works better when it's dried for a while.

Oooh. Tried this for a small dinner party this week and it got RAVE reviews. Went to a potluck later in the week and it got RAVE review there! And so, so simple to make. I like Rao's Marinara Sauce, so used that. Thanks for making me look like...well, like an actual cook (what a concept!) I wonder about adding some spinach...? (Also, I didn't have no-boil lasagna and it worked well without - I wonder what the difference is?)

Patti, thanks so much for commenting -- I'm so glad your lasagna was a hit! People always love this when I serve it -- and sometimes they like it more than when I make more complicated recipes. Spinach would be great; if you use frozen, defrost it and squeeze out all of the water, the mix it into the ricotta cheese. The difference between no-bake and regular lasagna? Marketing, maybe?

I forgot to buy no boil lasagna noodles. I only have regular ones. Do I have to boil them can I just put them in the pan like I have done with no bake?

Sheri, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. As long as there's enough moisture in your lasagna, it should work just fine with regular noodles (see Patti's comment, above). To be safe, you can always parboil the noodles for 2-3 minutes, to give them a head start.

Does anyone know if you can freeze a pan of lasagna using no boil noodles prior to cooking it?

Mary, I haven't tried freezing it before baking, so I can't give you a definitive answer other than to say that the no-bake noodles make assembly so easy that it only takes 5 minutes to put together a pan of lasagna and get it into the oven. You can certainly freeze it after baking. I'll ask Pantry readers to help answer this one.

Can you make the night before and refridge? Or will the noodles get to soggy?

Cindy and Mary: I checked the Barilla web site about freezing and fridging. You can fridge for up to 24 hours before cooking, and can freeze before cooking, too. For more info, check: http://www.barillaus.com.

I have made lasagna for years. I learned from my mother. She did not layer her lasagna. She would add gravy on the botton of the pan, then the noodles, then the ricotta mixed with eggs, grated cheese, parsley and then noodles on top. It comes out very good. I make it that way and now my children do too. The other way, there is too much macaroni in it. We always loved the insides of the lasagna.

Can I partially baked the lasagna will no boil noodles...freeze... and then bake... How long can i store it in the freeze. How long will it take to complete the baking of a 10'x14' pan? Thanks ... so much ... Don't want to ruin Christmas dinner...

Connie, there's no reason to partially bake it. Bake it all the way through, then freeze and reheat. It will be fine, really. You can freeze it for a couple of weeks. The bake time should be the same if you use the same volume of ingredients.

If you want to make this really, really well, the way the Italians do in Italy, try this. Instead of ricotta, make a simple bechamel sauce. Make a LOT of very thin layers alternating bechamel, cheese, and a meat sauce of your choosing (I use a homemade bolognese). Cook until bubbly and make sure there's alot of cheese on top. The point is that the layers should be very thin so that there are a lot of noodles. I use at least 3 boxes of those barilla bad boys when I make this. ANd I make a lot of it, cut it into squares and freeze it for leftovers. This will make your heart sing, I guarantee.

And if you're in the mood to do severe damage, let it set up and cool. Cut it into small strips, dip in flour, then egg wash, and then panko. Fry it in duck fat or extra virgin cocoonut oil. Too good for words.

DO NOT FREEZE NO BAKE NOODLES. I love lasagna!! But I made two casserole dishes of lasagna, we ate one that night and froze the second one. When I cooked the second one after thawing, it was like eating mush. It was disgusting. Then I thought maybe I shouldn't cook it before I freeze it, like I had the first time, so I made another batch and froze it without cooking and then when we tried that one- again, MUSH. *blick* I repeat, DO NOT FREEZE NO BAKE NOODLES!

Thank you for the information on the freezing of No Bake Noodles.
I was just about to put it together and freeze it for x-mas.
I will now freeze the sauce and put it together later.
Thanks!

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