Regular lasagna noodles are pasta dough that has been formed into long, wide strips designed to be layered or rolled and baked with other ingredients. The noodles are shaped and dried, and you must boil them before using. No-boil noodles are shaped and pre-boiled before drying, which eliminates the preliminary cooking step in recipes.
Pasta dough is shaped into many different forms, from tiny alphabet letter and rice-shaped orzo to wide, flat or frilly lasagna noodles. The thicker and larger the pasta, the longer it takes to cook the pasta. You must precook standard, dry lasagna noodles to soften them before you layer them or fill them with other ingredients. The noodles finish cooking during the baking process, absorbing the flavors of the other ingredients. No-boil noodles go right from the package to the pan, as the initial boiling is done during production.
The Layering Effect
The word "lasagna" describes both the casserole recipe and the type of noodle needed to prepare the dish. Of the thousands of possibilities for what could go into the dish, all lasagna dishes are made basically the same way: ingredients such as meat, cheese, vegetables and mushrooms are placed between layers of noodles, with a final topping of cheese. The moisture is provided by a tomato-based sauce or a white sauce, or bechamel. Liquid requirements in recipes using regular lasagna noodles supply the correct amount of moisture, as the precooked and drained pasta does not need further softening.
Using Your Regular Noodle
To use regular lasagna noodles, follow package directions for cooking time, and drain thoroughly. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, because they can be very hot to handle while assembling the casserole. Running cold water over them helps this along, but be sure not to let the noodles sit too long after cooling as they will stick together. If you're using a smaller pan than the recipe calls for, or are only making half the recipe, you can cut the cooked noodles to fit. Just be sure to tuck the ends into the pan before baking, as any that extend over the edges may burn or dry out and become hard and brittle.
Easy Does It
Pre-boiled lasagna noodles measure about 7 inches long by 3 1/2 inches wide, and are either flat or wavy with an accordion-type pattern designed to help them absorb more moisture during baking. They lend themselves well to making lasagna in smaller baking pans, and the sections can be broken to fill in any gaps between the layers of ingredients. You may, however, need to increase the liquid in the sauce to fully cook and soften pre-boiled noodles during the final baking. And unlike the dish made with regular lasagna, you will have to cover the pan during baking to retain as much moisture as possible to cook the noodles thoroughly.
Rachel Lovejoy has been writing professionally since 1990 and currently writes a weekly column entitled "From the Urban Wilderness" for the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, Maine, as well as short novellas for Amazon Kindle. Lovejoy graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts in English.