The perfect lasagna is the one that’s boiled and baked properly. And, like everything else in Italian cooking, there’s a trick to this.
Lasagna sheets cook a little differently than other macaroni do. If you took our advice for cooking spaghetti noodles and you applied it to lasagna sheets, for example, you would end up with an unsavory dish that would probably be left uneaten.
To help you get this right, let’s talk about the right technique—and the dos and don’ts—of boiling lasagna sheets.
The Steps to Cooking Lasagna Sheets, Explained
There are two steps to cooking lasagna sheets: boiling and rinsing. This is how they proceed.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add the sheets:
Fill a large pot with water and salt it generously. Use 1 gallon (1.2 liters) of water to boil 1 pound (450 grams) of lasagna sheets. To every gallon of water, add 1-2 tablespoons of salt.
Put the pot on the stove, fire up the burner, and turn the heat all the way up to high. When the water has reached a rolling boil, lower the heat to medium-high, add the lasagna sheets, and give them a quick initial stir.
In Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course, the British multi-Michelin starred chef recommends gently tilting the pan from side to side as you add the lasagna sheets to stop them from sticking together.
Simmer the sheets until they’re cooked to al dente:
Let the lasagna sheets simmer till they cook to al dente, which means slightly underdone. Remember, they will absorb some of the sauce and continue to cook in the oven—and you don’t want them to overcook as your lasagna won’t be able to hold its shape.
Spinach lasagna sheets cook in 15 to 30 seconds; fresh lasagna sheets cook in 1 to 2 minutes; dried lasagna sheets cook to al dente in 3 to 4 minutes and to full doneness in 5 to 6 minutes.
(When in doubt, refer to the cooking instructions on the back of the package.)
In the same book, which should be on every home cook’s bookshelf, Ramsay writes about the best way to tell if your lasagna sheets are ready. Fish out a sheet and press it in with your fingers, he instructs. If you can feel your fingers meet in the middle, it’s done.
Drain and dry the sheets, then layer your lasagna:
Drain the lasagna sheets from the water, rinse them under cold running water to stop the cooking process, and dry them as well as you possibly can. Once there’s no more water dripping from them, they can be used to layer the lasagna in the baking pan.
Avoid These Lasagna-Cooking Mistakes
Cooking lasagna sheets is all about rehydrating and flavoring them. The boiling water takes care of the rehydration, and the salt in the water takes care of the flavoring.
Overcooking the macaroni:
If you boil the lasagna sheets too long, leave them in the water after they’re done cooking, or forget to cool them under running water, you run the risk of overcooking them. Overcooked lasagna sheets turn out mushy and unable to hold their shape, ruining an otherwise perfectly prepared lasagna dish.
Not seasoning the water with salt:
If you don’t salt the water generously, the lasagna sheets will taste bland. You can’t compensate for that, even if your lasagna fillings are deliciously flavorful.
Avoid these two mistakes and you’ll cook a lasagna like an Italian grandmother.
How to Boil Lasagna Noodles Without Them Sticking
Many non-professional cooks like you and me complain that their lasagna noodles stick while cooking. This is a problem because it can be a hassle to get them unstuck. Sometimes, as you try to get them unstuck, you can tear them up beyond salvation.
To prevent your lasagna noodles from sticking, boil them in a large pot filled with plenty of salted water. When you submerge the noodles in the water, stir them briefly, then lift the pot from the stove and swirl it gently back and forth for a few seconds.
You don’t need to add oil to the water. In fact, doing so can be counterproductive: The noodles will get coated with the oil, and they don’t be able to absorb and hold the sauce during the baking.
How to Boil Lasagna Sheets Without Breaking Them
If you keep breaking your lasagna sheets when you put them in the pot, you’re probably submerging them in the water the wrong way. The good news is that this comes down to technique, and technique is really easy to fix. So let’s help you fix it!
Hold the lasagna sheets vertically and slowly submerge them in the water while waiting for the end that’s already underwater to soften up. If you try to place them horizontally in the water, the bubbles may cause the hard noodles to break before they even begin to cook.
This is especially important with dried pasta because it’s stiff. (In contrast, fresh pasta is softer—and you don’t have to be as careful when dipping it in the water.)
Do You Absolutely Need to Boil Lasagna Noodles?
Most lasagna noodles need to be boiled briefly in salted water. In recent years, pasta makers introduced noodles that need no boiling at all. You can recognize them by the fact that the package says “no-boil” or “oven-ready.”
If you’re short on time, low on energy, or you just don’t like cooking as much as cookbook authors, food bloggers, and YouTube chefs would like you to, no-boil lasagna sheets are a real blessing.
With no-boil lasagna sheets, you can make the most delicious dishes in a snap without having to soften the pasta in a pot of boiling water. Adina Steiman of Epicurious points out that this type of pasta sheet requires a lot of moisture—so, for best results, you need to make sure that your sauce is watery.
To make lasagna with no-boil sheets, open the box, lay the dry sheets in the pan, and spread your sauce and fillings directly on them. Bake according to the directions of the recipe. Since the sheets will be cold, account for a longer cooking time of 45 to 60 minutes at 375°F (190°C).