With a more delicate flavor than the typical beefy lasagna, this delicious chicken-and spinach-filled version is especially welcome at holiday time, where its green and red ingredients tie into the season’s colors. In addition to the tomato sauce, it also has a creamy white sauce that gives the dish a northern Italian flair. Yes, it is a bit more complicated than other lasagnas, but the results are hard to beat.
Some cooks like to make and freeze lasagna 2 to 3 weeks before baking. The last time I baked a frozen batch of this dense lasagna, it took 2½ hours to cook through! In my opinion, the convenience of freezing isn’t worth the lengthy baking time. (Of course, you could defrost the lasagna first.) I prefer to make and freeze the tomato sauce, chicken, and stock for up to 1 month. Then when I am ready to make the lasagna, I defrost them, make the filling and white sauce, and assemble.
This lasagna is sublime with fresh pasta. If you have a pasta shop nearby, buy 1 pound fresh lasagna noodles. Cut the pasta into lengths to fit the dish. As you assemble the lasagna, boil the pasta as needed in batches in a large pot of lightly salted water over high heat until they are barely al dente and supple, about 3 minutes. Using a large skimmer, transfer the pasta to a colander, and rinse briefly under cold water to stop the cooking. Spread over kitchen towels and pat the tops dry with another towel. Working with one layer of lasagna noodles at a time keeps them from taking over your kitchen counter.
- One 3½-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 medium celery rib with leaves, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh parsley
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- One 28-ounce can tomatoes in juice, chopped, juices reserved
- One 6-ounce can tomato paste
- 1½ teaspoons dried basil
- 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon crushed hot red pepper
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- Two 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1½ cups ricotta cheese
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound dried lasagna noodles
- 3 cups (12 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1. To prepare the chicken and stock, place the chicken, onion, celery, and carrot in a large pot and add enough cold water to barely cover the chicken (about 2 quarts). Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface. Add the parsley, thyme, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover tightly. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the chicken to cook through.
2. Strain through a colander placed over a large bowl, reserving the chicken stock. Cool the chicken until easy to handle. Discard the skin and bones, coarsely chop the meat, and set aside. (The chicken and stock can be made up to 2 days ahead, separately cooled, covered, and refrigerated, or frozen for up to 1 month.)
3. To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, tomato paste, 1½ cups of the reserved chicken stock, the basil, oregano, and crushed red pepper, and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until thickened and reduced to about 6 cups, about 40 minutes. (The tomato sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead, cooled, covered, and refrigerated, or frozen for up to 1 month.)
4. To make the white sauce, in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and let bubble, without browning, for 2 minutes. Whisk in 3½ cups of the reserved stock and bring to a simmer. (Reserve the remaining stock for another use.) Cook, stirring often, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and season with the salt and pepper. Transfer to a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly on to the surface of the sauce, and pierce a few holes in the wrap to allow the steam to escape (this prevents a skin from forming on the surface of the sauce). Set aside.
5. To make the filling, put the spinach in a wire sieve and rinse under warm water until thawed. A handful at a time, squeeze the moisture out of the spinach, and transfer the spinach to a large bowl.
6. In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and heavy cream and let stand until the bread crumbs are softened, about 5 minutes. Scrape into the bowl with the spinach. Add the chopped chicken, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, eggs, parsley, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
7. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. One a time, stir the lasagna noodles into the water. Cover and bring the water back to a boil. Immediately uncover the pot, and cook the pasta until barely tender, about 7 minutes for dried. (The pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so it should still have some bite to it.) Drain and rinse under cold running water. Shake the colander well to remove excess water. (If not using immediately, toss the pasta with 1 tablespoon olive oil and set aside in the colander for up to 1 hour.)
8. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly oil a 15 × 10-inch baking dish.
9. Spread about ½ cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. Arrange 5 lasagna noodles (4 horizontally and 1 vertically), slightly overlapping and cut to fit, in the dish. Spoon a third of the tomato sauce over the noodles. Scatter half of the chicken-spinach filling over the noodles, then spread half of the white sauce on top. Arrange another 5 noodles in the dish. Top with half of the remaining tomato sauce, then the remaining filling, remaining white sauce, and 1 cup of mozzarella. Arrange a final layer of noodles, spread with the remaining tomato sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella. Cover the lasagna tightly with aluminum foil. (The lasagna can be prepared up to 1 day ahead, covered tightly and refrigerated.)
10. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the sauce is bubbling throughout, about 30 minutes more. Let the lasagna stand for 10 minutes before serving.