How to deal with "no precooking required" lasagne sheets?
Lasagne typically need to cook in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. The main problem, as outlined by others in this thread, is the tendency of pasta sheets to dry up during this prolonged exposure to high temperatures.
To avoid this, I usually precook the sheets in slightly-salted boiling water for one minute (I just want to soften them, not cook them); a few oil drops in the boiling water should help preventing the sheets to stick to each other. Subsequently I drain the sheets and lay them on a clean cotton cloth to let the cooking water be absorbed while I attend the preparation of the sauces.
After lasagne are assembled in the pan, I cover it with aluminium foil and then put it in the oven to cook; after 20 minutes I remove the foil and let lasagne cook "naked" for the remaining 10 minutes.
Here are some pictures I took during the preparation of lasagne with crumbled sausages and mushrooms.
With this procedure, lasagne sheets retain most of the moisture, thus not needing an excessive amount of sauce to keep them hydrated.
I managed to obtain very good results even with Sainsbury's Value Lasagne Sheets (a brand of cheap "no precooking required" dry lasagne sheets commonly found in UK).
Generally speaking, me neither. Being Italian myself, I can confirm the uselessness of adding oil to prevent pasta from sticking. But in the case of lasagne sheets, it could be different given their much higher specific surface area compared to other pasta formats.
I don't have hard evidence supporting this theory and I'm a bit skeptikal myself (that's why I said "_should_ help") but at least it shouldn't do any harm either since oil would be drained with the water anyway, without adding much fat to the dish. And besides, I've learned the hard way to always **stick** to traditions and common knowledge when cooking :-)
They work fine. Here is an example of a vegetarian lasgana where I use them. The key is to make sure that there is plenty of well-seasoned liquid for them to absorb. You don't need to parboil them.
@Jefromi: So it was. Given that this is the second or third broken hyperlink I've seen in the past few days, I think it's sound advice to just use the Markdown instead, since it's much simpler.
I agree with the liquid recommendation: my lasagne sauce recipe yields a very thick, meaty sauce, and I've found that even 'no precooking required' sheets need a good hour to soften sufficiently, especially where there are multiple sheets overlapping.
Also, never attempt to use any sauce using an absorptive-type and/or coarse thickener (eg breadcrumbs, nut pastes/flours) with them, for any layer... the noodles will pull all the moisture they can from it and leave you with only the solids. Such sauces are problematic with all baked pasta, but especially so with no-boil noodles ...
I prefer the flavor of fresh lasagna sheets over dried but between the different sorts of dried sheets I've not found there to be a big difference in "no-precooking-required" ones. I have however found that they vary a lot by brand.
The only thing I would say is that it can take a bit of trial and error to get a creamy texture with "no-precooking-required" ones as they soak up variable quantities of liquid depending on brand and how many layers you use so you can get a stodgy (but still delicious) finish. Dropping the layer count by one and adding extra sauce has worked for me.
Once again I will bring up America's Test Kitchen (AKA Cook's Illustrated). They like the no-boil sheets, but they have experienced some of the same problems already brought up here. To ameliorate those issues, they recommend soaking the sheets for 10 minutes in hot tap water before use. I've done it, it works great.
I've been cooking lasagne for the past 15 years and never had a problem with instant sheets.
I use meat sauce, cheese sauce and the sheets, I cook for about 30-35 minutes in a moderate oven and stick a knife through the layers to check if it's done. Occasionally it will need an extra 5-10 minutes cooking time.
I love fresh pasta in every other instance but I find that dried sheets are a lot better for holding the shape of lasagne!
I used dry sheets in cooking but found them hard in places where perhaps the sauce had not reached them so decided next time to boil first as per the packet instructions for 10 mins. Most of them stuck together so ended up with about 50% not useable - a right pain. Give up - I will use fresh next time.
It is all about the sauce and the time. If you are boiling your pasta sheets [or if you have fresh ones] the lasagna will be done within 30 min baking time. However without boiling your sheets it would need rather an hour. I am using a bit more sauce - making a ragù and using it generously. I also use a bechamel-ricotta mixture [first make the bechamel sauce and when done stir in ricotta until smooth] - and use it also generously. Mixing ricotta cheese and sauce together makes it very smooth [no usual graininess] - and you have more sauce - which your pasta sheet can soak up.
No cook lasagne noodles are better than those that require parboiling. They shouldn't need to be soaked or cooked or parboiled. They DO need to be completely covered in sauce.
To do this, I use fewer of the ricotta and Bechamel layers, and more of the tomato sauce layers. I used to drain my tinned chopped tomatoes but now I add all the juice to my sauce and all the juice from the ground beef which I used to drain off.
If you test the lasagna when cooking by inserting a fork in several places you'll figure out how long it takes to bake it until the noodles are soft and it's hot through.
The biggest issue I've had with the no cook noodles is that it's difficult to find disposable foil pans to fit the noodles without having to break them. I make loads at a time (10 litres of tomato sauce, 5 1lb. Tubs ricotta etc.)
There are apparently flat precooked lasagne noodles without the ruffled edge but I've never seen them. My family and friends love my lasagne.
As an added note, I don't bake the lasagne right away unless I'm serving it that night. I usually freeze them without baking. I put plastic film on top and then foil with a taped on note to be sure to remove the plastic then put the foil back on before putting it into the oven. The frozen lasagne takes at least an hour to cook in a convection oven (9x11" pan). I'd never go back to sticky wet lasagne noodles.
I only ever use the packaged sheets. I cook them in a frying pan, not a saucepan. Start with hot tap water, no salt or oil added. About 3/4 heat. After 5 minutes, I use an egg lifter and slide between the sheets. Stops them sticking together. After 10 minutes, remove from stove and left one sheet out at a time and place on paper to towel to absorb excess water. Works well every time.