In the world of lasagna, this is a fairly quick lasagna. And by “quick” I mean it won’t take you four hours to prepare – but it might take one. If this were Sunday, I’d start my sauces at 10 am, make pasta from scratch, grate fresh mozzarella, and be wore out by the time dinner was ready (I’d also be fat and happy after I ate, and would be enjoying my labor for most of the next week!). But since this is the middle of the week, we’re going to cut some corners to make this meal in a timely fashion.
We’ll start with the sauce. Everything goes in the pot, simmers and is done. That’s it! 20 minutes, and you have yourself a fresh, homemade sauce for the pasta. The flavors are simple and mild, and will be a good accompaniment to the strong flavors of the Pesto Chicken and the creamy texture of the Lemon Ricotta.
Next is the Pesto Chicken. Pesto traditionally contains nuts (typically pine nuts). Although I’m a huge fan of pine nuts, I know that some people (like my step dad) can be deathly allergic – so when I think he might be around for dinner, I leave all the nuts in the freezer (except me, I don’t fit in the freezer…. and yes, the freezer is the best place to store nuts). In a dish like this, that is full of complimenting flavor elements, I don’t really miss the pine nuts in the pesto. But if you are appalled at the thought of leaving them out – then add them in!
Do you ever walk by your grocery store deli when they are pulling out the rotisserie chickens? Well it’s a bad idea – you’ll forget what you came to buy, and end up buying 2 of those chickens instead (one to eat on in the store, and one to take home for later!). The meat is so tender and juicy, and it makes for a great start to a quick weeknight meal. Remove the skin, pull the meat, and toss it in the pesto.
And the last layer that takes a little prep work is the Lemon Ricotta. You’ll want to use both the zest and the juice of the lemon – the zest contains all the oils, and has a punchier flavor. But don’t expect an overpowering lemon flavor with this – we don’t want to bite into the lasagna and think lemon! The amount of juice and zest we are using is just enough to give it a fresh flavor that’s slightly zingy.
Onto the no-prep elements to our dish – fresh spinach, grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and no-boil lasagna sheets. Did you know they made those!? Whoever thought of that is a genius… For a weeknight lasagna, no-boil pasta is ideal. But you want to make sure that the top layer is completely covered with sauce – any parts that aren’t touching sauce will end up crispy instead of soft.
For assembly, I start with a thin layer of sauce. Especially since we are using the no-boil pasta – you want there to be enough moisture around the sheets. So sauce first (about 1/2 cup, spread evenly around) followed by pasta, then sauce again. Next is the spinach. I prefer a little spinach on each level – but I think The Man would prefer a whole bag per level….so go with what you prefer. Keep in mind that it will wilt as it cooks, and there will be much less when it’s done. On top of the spinach goes the ricotta . Drop spoonfuls evenly around, and don’t worry about spreading it out – it will spread as it bakes. Next is the chicken, followed by mozzarella and then more pasta. Press down a little on the pasta, just to get the bottom layers all cozy together. Now repeat – sauce, spinach, ricotta, chicken, cheese, pasta. For the top, you want a light layer of sauce, and alot of cheese.
After you’ve baked your lasagna til it’s bubbly and brown, let it sit for at least 20 minutes. I know, I know….after all this hard work and an hour in the oven, you are starving. But if you cut into it right away, you are going to end up with a sloppy mess. All your sauce will be left in the pan, and there won’t be a single recognizable layer. And it’s too hot to eat now anyways! So trust me….drink you a glass of wine and chill out. Once the lasagna cools, it will cut smoothly and plate in one solid piece. Enjoy ;)
Pesto Chicken Lasagna
- No-boil lasagna sheets
- Tomato Cream Sauce
- Lemon Ricotta
- Pesto Chicken
- 8 Oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
- Fresh spinach
- 1/4 C. parmesan cheese, grated
In a large baking dish, spoon 1/2 cup of sauce evenly into the bottom. Layer in lasagna sheets, slightly overlapping. Follow with 1/3 of tomato sauce, 1/2 of spinach, 1/2 of ricotta, 1/2 of chicken, and 1/3 of mozzarella. Top with layer of lasagna sheets and repeat, ending with third and final layer of lasagna sheets. Evenly coat lasagna with remaining sauce, mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350F for 50 – 60 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving.
Lasagna can be assembled in advance and kept refrigerated until ready to bake. Remove from the fridge half an hour before baking. Lasagna is always better the next day, so enjoy the leftovers!
Tomato Cream Sauce
- 1 box Pomi chopped tomatoes (or 1 large can diced tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 C. half & half
- 2 T. fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 T. olive oil
Combine all ingredients into a pan. Heat over medium until simmering. Reduce heat to low, continue to simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool before assembling lasagna.
- 8 Oz. ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 T. lemon zest
- 2 T. lemon juice
- 1 T. Italian seasoning
- salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
- 1 bunch basil (about 20 leaves)
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1/4 C. olive oil
- 1/4 C. grated parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded
In a food processor, pulse basil and garlic until pulverized. Move to a bowl and add in oil, cheese, salt and pepper. Stir until combined. If too thick, add a little more oil (but do not make it super runny). Add in chicken, and toss to combine.