We got a bucketload of snow the week before Christmas–the wind decided to come out to play, too, resulting in 18-inch drifts in the backyard. The girls got a very rare snow day off from school and were absolutely thrilled. Miss D. was doubly happy because the snow day also happened to be her 14th birthday. I crept into her bedroom around 6-o’clock and whispered, “Turn off your alarm, birthday girl. There’s a blizzard outside; no school.”
She gasped and pulled up the shade on the window. “Whoa. That’s awesome!” And then she slept for a few more hours.
Alas, my ship had sailed, so I made coffee and went about my day. By noon, things had really gotten nuts outside, so my husband came home over his lunch hour and fired up the snowblower.
Strangely enough, it’s the second week of January and we still have some of that snow hanging around. It’s been oddly, persistently cold the past few weeks* and that snow hasn’t wanted to budge. Walks with Mozzy are ice-slicked affairs and my new snow boots are getting a workout.
When the weather outside is that biting, I crave hearty, comforting fare. I think everyone does. Nothing beats a plate of carbohydrates blanketed in cheese on a winter’s night. It’s like a warm hug to your belly. There’s a problem with that, though. It’s been so cold (and the sidewalks so slick) that I haven’t been able to take my daily 3-mile walks. It’s hard to justify scarfing down cheesy casseroles when the only exercise you’ve had is taking down the holiday decorations and polishing off the last of the cookies.
What’s a comfort-craving girl to do?
She tries to find a middle ground, that’s what she does.
Luckily, the January issue of Cooking Light magazine had recently arrived, and when I spied this recipe for chicken and spinach lasagna, I just had to make it. It spoke to me. It spoke to me so much that I immediately donned my parka and my mukluks and headed to the grocery store. Believe me, after huffing and pushing a heavy grocery cart through inches of snow, I deserved lasagna.
A few words about this recipe. It is not an easy or quick recipe. This recipe is something to make when you have a chunk of time on your hands, but isn’t that the way with most lasagna recipes? Lasagna-making is for weekends or snow days. Don’t try to make this on a weeknight or you’ll be starving and pissed off and mean enough to poke someone in the eye. I consider myself a pretty speedy cook and it took me well over an hour to even get the lasagna ready for the oven.
That said, the recipe makes 2 panfuls of lasagna, so you can scarf down one pan and freeze the other for later use, which makes the time well spent, in my opinion. Alternatively, you can make the lasagna in one large 9×13 pan and feed a crowd. This would make spectacular Super Bowl fare.
Cooking Light magazine says that this recipe serves 12, but in my opinion, that’s a pretty stingy serving size. If you want to pad the dinner with a big salad and a heaving basket of garlic bread, you could maybe get 12 servings out of it, but personally, I don’t believe in being miserly with my lasagna. I’m going to say that this recipe serves 8 generously. Besides, this lasagna isn’t overly cheesy, so it’s not that filling. You’ll be glad for that bigger piece.
You’ll be especially glad when you taste it, because this is a winner. It’s satisfying and comforting without being heavy. There’s plenty of vegetable activity going on, so you’ll feel a little virtuous, even. What’s not to like about that?
Chicken, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna
serves 8 generously
slightly adapted from Cooking Light magazine
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of visible fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 (6-ounce) packages fresh baby spinach
1 1/2 cups 2% milk
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles (I like Barilla brand)
5 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer about 18-20 minutes or until done. Remove chicken from the pan; reserve stock. Cool the chicken and shred into small pieces.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat. Add the onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, thyme, red pepper and mushrooms. Cook 8 minutes. Add the spinach, one package at a time, cooking each addition until it wilts. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in chicken.
Preheat the oven to 375.
Coat two square 8-inch baking dishes with cooking spray.
Combine the milk, flour and nutmeg in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Bring the reserved chicken stock to a boil over medium heat. Gradually add the milk mixture to the stock mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook about 5 minutes or until thickened; add remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Remove the pan from the heat and add the grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese.
Pour 1/2 cup sauce onto the bottom of each baking dish. Top each with 2 noodles, 1 cup chicken mixture, 1 cup sauce, and 1/4 cup mozzarella, making sure to cover noodles completely with the sauce. Repeat layers once with noodles, chicken mixture, sauce. Top dishes evenly with remaining 4 noodles, remaining sauce and remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella.
Cover dishes tightly with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes. Uncover the pans and bake another 10-15 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
You can freeze one of the baked lasagnas for later use. Just bake it, cool it completely, wrap it well in foil and freeze. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Reheat the covered lasagna at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake 5-10 minutes more or until hot and bubbly.
*apologies to the Minnesotans and the Dakotans for complaining about the cold–I know you’ve had it far worse lately! What can I say? This former North Dakotan has gotten soft.