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No Boil Lasagna Noodles

Published September 2002

How we tested

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.

Two Types of No-Boil Lasagna Noodles

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.

Our Favorite Noodles

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.

Are Traditional Noodles Interchangeable with No-Boil Noodles?

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.

Are Parboiled Traditional Noodles Interchangeable with No-Boil Noodles?

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.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*