Friday, January 12, 2018

Chicken Lasagna with Greens, Mushrooms & Walnuts

Have you heard? lasagna is the next big food trend. Really?! No, I didn't make that up. I read that startling information online this week as Taste predicted 2018 will be "The Year of Lasagna." Well, for once I am on trend with my recent pan of a creamy white chicken lasagna served with a dollop of red sauce on the side. Mmmmm, I can't help but smile in contentment while remembering the flavors of this favorite comfort food. I won't make any claims for healthy eating with this recipe, just a promise of irresistible palate-pleasing layers of rich, creamy deliciousness. 

Do you remember your first pan of lasagna? Old school lasagna with red sauce might have been one of my first kitchen achievements as a new bride, along with spaghetti & meatballs, Irene's tuna cashew casserole, and a handful of taco and enchilada concoctions. The tuna casserole dropped off the menu decades ago, and my lasagna casseroles have strayed markedly away from the more traditional. Nonetheless, winter weather still calls for a tempting pan of baked pasta.  

Well-suited for a weeknight meal, or for make-ahead cooking on the weekend to serve later in the week or freeze, this white-sauced chicken lasagna merits repeat appearances. Make a double batch, you will love the convenience of a ziploc bag filled with frozen individual servings to reheat on a busy weeknight. Yes, it's that good and shines as a quicker version of similar but more time consuming recipes. Use no-cook pasta sheets to eliminate one messy step; Italian seasoned chicken sausage will take less time to prep than chicken pieces; and a jar of sauce can substitute for your own homemade red sauce. I won't judge. 

The lasagna tastes decadently rich and satisfying enough so one 8"x8" dish provides six servings for the two of us. It's freezer-friendly after baking, with individual servings wrapped in plastic wrap, and then a wrap of aluminum foil. I defrost, unwrap and place in individual ovenproof dishes to reheat in the oven. Cover and bake until warmed completely through, then uncover and bake a bit longer to bubble the cheese and crisp up the top. Yum.  

Chicken Lasagna with Greens, Mushrooms & Walnuts
serves 4-6

6 small no-cook lasagna noodles
1 cup ricotta, whipped with a fork to loosen
4 cups fresh spinach, cleaned & rough chopped
1 cup walnut pieces, rough chopped
1 lb Italian chicken sausage, cooked or 2 cups cooked thigh meat
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded
*Mushroom Bechamel Sauce (see below)
2 cups prepared red pasta sauce (optional accompaniment) 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Set out the ingredients and lightly coat an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Prepare the sauce and set aside.
  3. To Assemble: Spread a scant cup of sauce evenly across the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange 2 or 3 lasagna noodles on top of the sauce, covering without overlapping. Dollop 1/2 of the ricotta on top of the noodles, spreading it around somewhat; next scatter 1/2 of the spinach. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the nuts, 1/2 of the chicken and finish with 1/3 of the cheeses. 
  4. Cover with half of the remaining sauce and repeat the layers. Top with the remaining pasta, sauce and cheeses.
  5. Cover with aluminum foil, place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes longer until golden and bubbly. OR place under the broiler for several minutes until lightly browned in spots. Let rest for 10+ minutes before serving to firm up.
  6. Use a wide spatula to serve, accompanied with warmed red pasta sauce if you choose.
Mushroom Behamel Sauce
1/4 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
6 fat green spring onions, minced
1/4 cup flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups whole milk, lukewarm
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp fresh nutmeg
Salt and white pepper, to taste
  1. Melt butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add garlic, mushrooms & onions and cook 4-5 minutes until onions are translucent and tender. 
  2. Sprinkle in flour and cook until flour is incorporated and lightly browned, whisking constantly.
  3. In small increments, gradually whisk in the chicken broth and milk and cook until slightly thickened, whisking constantly as it cooks. (The sauce should be loose, not a heavy paste!) Add the basil, oregano and nutmeg; stir to incorporate. Taste; season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside while preparing the lasagna ingredients. 

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