Few pasta dishes are as impressive as a big pan of lasagna. Hot and fresh from the oven, bubbling and aromatic under its golden topping of cheese, it's a sure crowd-pleaser. That's why it's doubly disappointing to cut into the layered pasta and discover a wet and soupy mess beneath the cheese. If you find this happens to you on a regular basis, you may be overlooking an important point or two regarding lasagna construction.
Assess the Sauce
If your lasagna's too wet, the obvious prime suspect is your sauce. Some are wetter than others, and even your grandmother's prized marinara recipe might not be ideal for use in a lasagna.
Ladle 3 or 4 ounces of sauce onto a plate, and watch it. If it spreads quickly to form a flat pool, or if it "weeps" a puddle of thin liquid from around the tomatoes, it's likely the culprit. It needs to be thicker for lasagna than for spaghetti or other noodles, and you have a few options for making it that way.
- Stir in a few tablespoons of tomato paste, and simmer the sauce until the paste is thoroughly dispersed.
- Cheat shamelessly, and thicken the sauce with a small quantity of cornstarch or quick-mixing "gravy" flour stirred into cold water or tomato juice.
- Simmer the sauce until enough moisture evaporates to thicken it naturally. This concentrates the flavors as well, so it's the best option when time permits.
You may simply be using too much sauce. All you need is a few tablespoons per layer, enough to cover the noodles and keep them from drying.
Check the Cheese
Your cheese layer can also contain a lot of excess moisture. Low-fat cottage cheese or ricotta tends to lose whey as it contracts in the oven's heat, so that's a starting point.
Use full-fat cheese when possible -- it's an indulgent dish, and you have the option of reducing portion size -- and press as much moisture from the cheese as you can before you add it to the lasagna. A generous handful of dry cheese, such as finely shredded Parmesan, adds flavor and helps absorb any surplus moisture. Finally, whipping an egg or two into your cheese layer helps bind up any escaping whey. As an added bonus, it helps preserve the cheese's rich and creamy texture.
Audit the Add-Ins
If you like to load up your lasagna with healthful ingredients, you might be compounding the problem. Mushrooms, zucchini, onions, spinach and sweet peppers all contain plenty of water, which cooks out in the oven. Cooking the water out beforehand is your best bet. Mushrooms, spinach and onions can be sauteed gently in a skillet, separately or together. Usually, you can squeeze extra moisture from the spinach once it's cooked. Zucchini and sweet peppers can be sauteed or roasted, as you prefer.
Next, the Noodles
Noodles are your ally in the war against wetness, if you use them intelligently. If you prefer traditional dry lasagna noodles, just cook them until they're flexible rather than fully al dente. Remember, they'll spend the best part of an hour bubbling in hot sauce. Just blot them dry and arrange them in your pan, where they'll find the extra moisture and cooking time they need. Fresh pasta and no-cook dry noodles don't need to be boiled ahead of time, which speeds and simplifies your preparations. In each case, they'll absorb the moisture they need from your sauce.
Even if you've done everything perfectly, your lasagna will still seem wet and soupy if you cut into it as soon as it leaves the oven. It needs at least 15 to 20 minutes to cool before you cut into it, and ideally 30 minutes. It will still be hot, but the cheese, sauce and noodles will all have had time to compose themselves. Not only will the lasagna slice more readily, you'll run less risk of burning your mouth on a pocket of super-hot sauce or cheese. Baking the lasagna a day ahead is another option. Its flavors will mature, and the noodles will have lots of time to absorb any excess moisture.