One of the more unique elements of my December giveaway was that I promised to make the winner a gluten-free variation of any traditional dish they wanted. The winner, Mandy from The Yard, requested a gluten-free chicken lasagna, and I was definitely up for the challenge. Little did I know how much of a challenge it would be!
From the outset, I wanted to make a creamy, spinach-based lasagna like you’d find in Northern Italy, since it would go really well with chicken. The trouble came with the rest of the ingredients – how much cream do I use? What cheese will work best? And how long do I cook it? After several unsuccessful attempts, I feel like a chicken lasagna expert in what NOT to do. For example, don’t use ricotta cheese, because it makes the dish too rich. Also, you don’t need as much cream as you’d think, and you need to thicken the cream with hard cheese to keep it from bubbling over while baking. You also need to soak the no-boil noodles in hot water before cooking (despite the manufacturer warning you AGAINST doing that) in order to get the perfect consistency without overcooking your spinach. Lastly, mozzarella cheese works best on a top layer, creating a pizza-like upper crust.
After a good amount of trial and error, I’m proud to say that I’ve got a unique and delicious chicken lasagna recipe that is just about the tastiest thing I’ve ever made. Fair warning: this is a dairy-intensive dish, with butter, cream, and four different types of cheese!
4 chicken breasts
1 package De Boles rice-based lasagna noodles
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large shallot, chopped finely
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart heavy cream
1 package (10oz) white mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
2 cups steamed broccoli, chopped
1 large handful raw spinach, blanched and chopped
1 small handful fresh basil, chopped
2 cups (16oz) whole milk mozzarella cheese, grated
3 cups (24oz) parmesan, romano, asiago cheese blend, shredded or shaved
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp each salt and pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
This recipe is a two-part process. You’ll need to prep all of your ingredients, and then layer them all together to make the dish. The prep part of this recipe takes the longest, and you’ll probably spend a good hour getting everything together. Some of the ingredients don’t really need explanation (steamed broccoli, sliced mushrooms, etc), so let’s go over how to get some of the trickier ingredients ready.
One great way to add texture to this dish is to grill your chicken. Take your chicken breasts and filet them in half (or thirds, even); the thinner they are the less time it’ll take to cook, and more pieces mean that you’ll have more sides exposed to the grill, and more char-broiled chicken flavor. Season the chicken with 1 tsp each of the salt and pepper, and toss with the olive oil (I did that in a gallon-sized ziploc bag).
Grill the chicken on direct medium heat until cooked through, about four minutes per side. Allow the chicken to cool, chop it, and set it aside.
To prep the spinach, dip it in boiling water for 15 seconds using some tongs, then put it in ice water for a couple minutes to stop the cooking process. Gently squeeze the spinach into a ball (squeezing out most of the water at the same time) and then chop the spinach into pieces 1/2″ wide and set aside.
In a large pan (we recently picked up this 4qt, 10 1/2″ All-Clad pan, it is awesome!) heat up the butter on medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the chopped shallot and sauté until it softens, about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and sauté until it’s aromatic, about 30 seconds.
Add the sliced mushrooms. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring often, until the mushrooms are cooked down and have lost most of their liquid.
Add the cream, ground nutmeg, and the rest of the salt and pepper. Simmer on low for 10 minutes. Bring the heat to medium and add the chicken, broccoli, chopped basil, spinach, and 1 cup (8oz) of the parmesan/romano/asiago cheese blend. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently for another few minutes until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, soak your lasagna noodles in hot tap water for 8 minutes. The De Boles lasagna noodles box comes with anywhere from 9 to 11 noodles in it, but you’ll only need 7 of them for this dish. The noodles will look pretty gross after soaking, as the rice starts to break apart a little bit; don’t worry about it, they will cook just fine.
Now it’s time to put everything together and make some lasagna. Arrange your sauce and cheeses for handy access, like in the picture above.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and place one oven rack on the bottom, and one near the top.
In a 9×13 baking pan, spoon a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom, creating an even layer. Place three lasagna noodles over the sauce length wise, then break a noodle in half and use it to cover the part that the noodles don’t reach in the pan.
Add half of the remaining parmesan, romano, and asiago cheese blend, then spoon half of the remaining sauce over the cheeses.
Repeat these steps – more noodles, the rest of the cheese blend, then the rest of the sauce. Don’t worry if the sauce doesn’t cover all of the noodles completely – when the noodles settle during baking, they’ll get covered.
Cover the lasagna with the mozzarella cheese, as you would on a pizza.
Cover the lasagna with tin foil and bake on the bottom rack for 10 minutes, then take the tin foil off and bake for another 10 minutes. Next, move the lasagna to the top rack, switch the oven to broil, and broil for a couple minutes until it’s brown and spotty. Keep your eye on it so it doesn’t burn!
Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.