No Boil Lasagna Noodles
Over the past few years, no-boil (also called oven-ready) lasagna noodles have become a permanent fixture on supermarket shelves. Much like "instant rice," no-boil noodles are precooked at the factory. The extruded noodles are run through a water bath and then dehydrated mechanically. During baking, the moisture from the sauce softens, or rehydrates, the noodles, especially when the pan is covered as the lasagna bakes. Most no-boil noodles are rippled, and the accordion-like pleats relax as the pasta rehydrates in the oven, allowing the noodles to elongate.
No-boil lasagna noodles come in two shapes. The most common is a rectangle measuring 7 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide; we found three brands in this shape. One other brand came in 7-inch squares. We made lasagnas with all four brands to see how they would compare. The two brands with noodles that are both thin and rippled worked well. Two squares of the 7-inch noodles butted very closely together fit into a 9 by 13-inch pan, but when baked the noodles expanded and the edges jumped out of the pan and became unpleasantly dry and tough.
And Can Traditional Noodles Be Substituted for No-boil?
Several readers reported they used traditional noodles instead of their no-boil counterparts in our Faster Lasagna and laid them right in the pan raw without parboiling. Needless to say, we were intrigued, so we put this substitution to the test.
We cooked two lasagnas, one with no-boil noodles, the other with traditional, straight from the box noodles, and the results were clear: The no-boil noodles were preferred for superior texture; the traditional noodles were starchy and gummy.
We also wondered what would happen if we made our recipe using traditional lasagna noodles but parboiled them before layering them into the pan. The overall structure of this lasagna—soupy and oozy—left us pining for the firm, moist structure of the original recipe. The cooked noodles did not absorb the extra moisture we had added to our original recipe to help soften the no-boil noodles.
Our conclusion: No-boil and traditional lasagna noodles are not interchangeable, even if you cook the traditional noodles first.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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