I was so excited to see my boxes of stuff arrive in the mail this week, but until the moment where I ripped them open with the glee and enthusiasm matching a six-year-old’s on Christmas morning, I had totally forgotten that in one of those boxes was a great set of gluten free lasagna noodles. So of course we had to make some lasagna! Despite the number of times I have eaten lasagna, I had never actually made it myself. And, true to tradition, I simply glanced at a couple of recipes to figure out proportions of cheese required and then set off on my own.
I wanted to cook something a little lighter than a typical tomato based lasagna, if for no other reason than I’ve been eating a lot of “mountain food” lately, and my physical activity level really doesn’t justify that as a regular eating habit, even though it tastes so good (mmm pasta & cheese = heaven)! So I decided that chicken and spinach would be a good alternative the a slow-cooked bolognese style meat sauce that my mother is famous for. Ha. This turned out to be “lighter” than I originally anticipated, because when my husband went to the store the only chicken available to buy was 53 CHF/kg!! So we only got 100g of chicken (a little less than 1/4 lb.). And then we stretched it out to four entire servings of lasagna. In a way it is good, because we should probably be eating more vegetables and less meat anyways. Better for health, better for the environment, yada yada yada – insert latest study about meat in diets here. I guess I should clarify that last statement. I do care about how food relates to health and the environment, almost obsessively so. I really do. But you’ve all heard it before, and my last cafe crème has not kicked in yet, so I don’t really have the energy at the moment to explain all the benefits of eating less meat.
Anyways, back to lasagna. Because there is no weighty sauce here, it really does have a lighter feel than a traditional lasagna. All I did for a “sauce” was add a bit of milk, which just helped to keep everything moist while baking. I love the combination of spinach and chicken, which were definitely the predominant flavors and textures here (the shallots and garlic were pretty subtle after baking), except for the sporadic zap of flavor from the occasional piece of sun-dried tomato. Actually, maybe sun-dried tomatoes should be part of the name of this lasagna because of their potency in this dish. Even though baked, the flavor of the sun-dried tomatoes does not mellow out one bit – something that I love about them. I added them specifically because I love that punch of sweet and tart that they bring all at once. It’s a wonderful contrast to the mild and comforting creamy ricotta and mozzarella that blends so seemlessly with the chicken and spinach. I love contrasting flavors in the same dish. I think it’s what keeps taste interesting during a meal. Contrast doesn’t have to mean an unlikely pairing, just a difference in flavors and textures. For this lasagna, the sun-dried tomatoes served that purpose, and did it well.
Ingredients (Serves 4):
100g (around 4 oz.) of GF or regular lasagna noodles
2 tbs. olive oil
100g (around 4 oz.) chicken, tenderloin or breast or your favorite cut
2 tbs. butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. italian herbs
pepper to taste
2 shallots, sliced
8 or so slices of sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
100g (around 4 oz.) spinach
1 tomato, peeled, deseeded and chopped
1/2 cup milk
1 cup ricotta
6 oz. mozzarella, grated
1/4 cup milk
parsley for garnish
1. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Drain, toss with a little olive oil to keep from sticking, set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Saute chicken in olive oil until fully cooked and browned. Slice and set aside.
3. In the same pan, add butter, and then saute garlic, herbs, pepper, shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, and mushrooms until the shallots are softened and the mushrooms start to brown a bit. Then add in the tomato and spinach. Once the spinach is wilted, stir in the milk and saute for a few more minutes to let everything come together.
4. In a casserole dish (around 8″ x 8″), layer noodles, then spinach mixture, then half the ricotta, then 2 oz. mozzarella and the chicken. Pour in about 1/4 cup of milk just to help keep everything moist while baking. Top with noodles, then spinach mixture, then rest of the ricotta, 2 more oz. mozzarella and one final layer of noodles. Finally, top with 2 oz. of grated mozzarella.
5. Bake dish in the oven for around an hour, or until the top is quite browned and you can see melted cheesy goodness seeping out. Sorry I didn’t really time this and don’t have a more specific metric.
6. When done, remove from oven, plate, and garnish with parsley for a little color. Enjoy!