What To Consider Before Using Pre-Cooked Noodles In Your Casserole

Casseroles are a family favorite, ideal for those cold nights that are made better by the warm and gooey comfort food. It is the quintessential "dump dinner." No-muss, no-fuss — just dump the ingredients into a casserole dish and bake. Whether you prefer a tuna casserole, chicken casserole, or mac and cheese casserole — there is a noodle casserole for everyone.

Although a casserole should be a fool-proof dish that any novice cook can tackle with ease, many recipes can lead you astray, resulting in a sad, soggy mess of over-cooked noodles. Casserole recipes typically call for pre-cooked noodles that are "cooked to package instructions." Sounds simple enough. But, as My Recipes notes, if you are using pre-cooked pasta, you may run the risk of an overcooked casserole that doesn't stand a chance of reheating without becoming mush.

Here's what to consider when making your next casserole recipe and some tips on how to avoid the dreaded overcooked noodles.

Use par-cooked pasta or no-boil recipes

To avoid the awful mush in your casserole or baked pasta dish, Bon Appétit suggests under-cooking the pasta — boiling the pasta for a few minutes less than the package instructions recommend, so that the noodles will be very al dente. This is important because the noodles will continue to cook in the oven. 

Other outlets, like Serious Eats, say to forgo boiling altogether and simply soak the uncooked pasta in a covered bowl of hot water for 30 minutes before baking.

Then there are recipes that don't treat the pasta beforehand at all, placing it uncooked in the pan to cook along with the other ingredients. As LiveStrong notes, this method requires a casserole with a good deal of liquid so that the noodles won't end up dry.

Whether parboiling, soaking, or using uncooked pasta, it's a matter of practice to determine which method works best for you in whatever recipe you are making. One thing is certain, though. When making a casserole, especially one you plan to enjoy as leftovers, don't cook the pasta as you would for an unbaked pasta dish. If you do, the added cooking in the oven will make your noodles a mushy mess, resulting in a dish that is more discomforting than comforting.