7 Secrets for Making Better Lasagna
Nothing lights up a room like a hot tray of lasagna. In addition to being one of the world's great comfort foods, it's also versatile. Lasagna can be made ahead and keeps warm nicely, making it a smart option for entertaining or nights where you're cooking many dishes and want something ready ahead of time. It isn't hard to learn how to make an impressive tray.
Whether you're cooking boxed noodles or rolling pasta from scratch, use these seven tips for a better lasagna. And if you're in search of some delicious recipe inspiration, check out our 10 easy lasagna recipes here.
Treat Your Pasta Right
Are you using boxed pasta or fresh pasta? If boxed, you have two roads: the no-boil noodle and the more traditional boiled noodles. No-boil will save you some time, but boiled noodles lead to a better result. Widely available, De Cecco is a good option for most noodle shapes, and that holds true with lasagna sheets. Note those nice frills on the edges!
If you'll be using fresh pasta, you have the same two options: boiling and not boiling. Some cooks give fresh lasagna sheets a very brief boil, about 10 to 20 seconds in salted water. If you roll your pasta thin enough, though, you can skip boiling altogether. Remember: Ultra-thin noodles will cook as your sauce and cheese bubble in the oven.
Follow the Proper Method for Boiling Noodles
When cooking boxed or fresh noodles, use plenty of water. Stir frequently but gently which keeps noodles from sticking together. Once they've finished boiling, plunge them into ice water. This brings the cooking process to a screeching halt. You'll want your lasagna sheets firmly on the al dente side, as they'll continue to soften in the oven.
Ricotta or No Ricotta?
The version with red sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella which is common in the U.S. is just one lasagna of many. Given the many kinds, there's room to use your imagination. Have some fun! Perhaps you want to skip ricotta and incorporate bechamel for added lightness, as in a classic lasagna Bolognese. Maybe you have fresh basil or mint on hand that you want to layer between sheets, or a soft cheese from the farmers' market. Don't feel confined by any ideas about what lasagna should be, because it varies widely.
Consider Your Layering Strategy
When making lasagna, err on the side of more layers. You don't need 25 or 100, like some upscale restaurants have done, but you'll want at least five. Ideally, you can shoot for seven or eight pasta layers. This keeps sauces juicy and helps the dish develop a more dramatic bite as your teeth glide through.
Begin with sauce on the pan bottom. Doing so will prevent your bottom noodle from sticking. As you build each individual pasta layer, try to minimize overlap between pasta sheets. If you can, stick to a 1/2 inch or less of overlap, or you could have some gummy spots.
Top Sheet Overhangs Lead to Crispy Magic
Consider leaving pasta sheets long on your top (and final!) layer, so they climb a little bit off the lasagna and up your pan's sides. These bits will crisp during baking, giving them a satisfying crunch. They'll make for more of a soft-crisp contrast—one thing that makes a great lasagna.
Err on the Side of Under-Baking
An overbaked lasagna can't be saved. When noodles mush and it becomes hard to differentiate between pasta and sauce layers, lasagna is past its prime. On the other hand, an under-baked lasagna can simply return to the oven for longer, an easy fix.
Check lasagna often. There are many factors that influence cooking time: pan size, number of layers, fresh versus dry pasta, and whether your sauce was hot, room temperature, or cool when you layered, for instance. Lasagna is done when it has a nicely browned top with crisp edges. Inside, noodles should retain a small degree of bite.
Make Extra Sauce for Serving.
If your lasagna has dried out or overcooked a bit, sauce can help. Make extra sauce to serve beside your dish. Unveiling a tray comes with a seriously great feeling of warmth and anticipation. Extra sauce, you can bet, will only enhance that feeling.