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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 23, 2012: Chicken Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna Alfredo--RECIPE INCLUDED.

I am continuing my quest to provide STELLAR lasagna to my husband and his work colleagues this coming Wednesday. So who better to look for a lasagna to follow somewhat as a recipe than Emeril Lagasse. Always a favorite when you want to "kick it up a notch."

I have already decided to make a "pizza lasagna." This is a fairly typical tomato based lasagna but includes pizza ingredients such as onions, mushrooms, bell pepper, black olives, sausage, ground beef and the coup--at least for my pizza craving hubby: PEPPERONI. And plenty of mozzarella cheese. Rachael Ray has a pretty good recipe for this so I am including it, even though you won't see a photo of it till tomorrow night and I didn't do it exactly the "ray way," but close:

She calls it "pizzagna," because she is SO CUTESY. As mentioned, I would love to hate her, especially with all her schmaltzy stories, but then... that would be HIGHLY hypocritical. Rusty Webb agrees with me that she seems genuinely nice. So okay, Rachael, when you want me to come and cook with you on the show and give away all my cooking secrets, I will come.

I have been trying out lasagnas for the past week, and tonight it was a bechamel sauce type of lasagna. Bechamel is so versatile and, sort of like risotto--- Once you get the sauce made, you can add a variety of favorite ingredients to make it your very own. It is pretty much just flour and milk,salt and pepper heated until the milk protein thickens. It is the base for grandma's gravy and biscuits as well as yummy alfredo sauce. And it mixes well with almost anything. Maybe not lemon, but lemon rind in it is amazingly good.

Although I often find Emeril's recipes a bit complex, his recipe for this bechamel sauce is very simple. In fact you saute most of the vegetables first and then pour in the milk.

First off, you need a BIG POT for this, because you are going to have a pound of mushrooms, a pound of spinach, 7 cups of milk and a cup of onion in this thing. I have a big Caphalon frying pan, but a Dutch oven would be okay as well. A stock pot may be a bit tall and too thin on the bottom for all the stirring required, but if that's all you've got, you can probably make it work.

This recipe calls for a pound of button mushrooms. One nice thing about button mushrooms is that they are CHEAP and most stores stock them. However, I did not use them. I used portobello which are a bit more expensive, but not expensive like a bunch of shitake, oyster or wild vareities. I like the "meaty texture" of the portobello. Frankly, you could use any variety though. Okay, NOT the poisonous kind unless you are hosting a murder mystery :)

He calls for a stick of butter to saute in and that is what I used, but frankly, I don't see that you will hurt this recipe any if you just put enough olive oil or truffle oil in the bottom of the pan to get the mushrooms started. One nice thing about mushrooms is that they sweat and provide their own cooking liquid, same as onions, so you don't need a lot. The biggest advantage of the butter though, is that is helps in making the roux. You definitely need some liquid and some oil in the pan to absorb all the flour, so be careful not to end up with a dry pan. The mushrooms cook about 5 minutes until they get a bit soft. Since this recipe contains chicken, it isn't a bad idea to throw a little bit of thyme in with it. If you want to add sage, rosemary and parsley, hey it will make Simon and Garfunkel very happy.

The next ingredient is onion--1 cup chopped. Emeril called for yellow onion. I used purple, but I only advise that if you enjoy a strong onion component. Again, nearly any onion would do, so what's on sale is fine. Here is a great video on easier ways to chop an onion. I have found most of those plastic onion choppers SUCK, so don't waste your cash. If anyone knows one that works well, let me know and I will put it on my blog. Add that and cook for 2-4 minutes until the onion is soft. Also add garlic. I used 3 tsp of store bought minced garlic, but if you have the time and inclination to cut it up yourself, go for it. I think you do get some good flavor if you can find it fresh. Many Knoxville grocery stores here have garlic that is old or non-useable and that is why I often used the minced variety in a jar. Choose heads that are firm to the touch, with no nicks or soft cloves. If you notice dark, powdery patches under the skin, pass it up since it is an indication of a common mold which will eventually spoil the flesh.

Once the onioins and garlic soften, add 2 tsp of salt (of course, truffle salt works great, but regular salt is JUST fine.) and 1/2 tsp of nutmeg. Stir well.

Once you have all this done, get ready to stay near the stove for 10-15 minutes stirring. For this step, you need a wooden spoon or a whisk and a strong right arm (or left, for you southpaws.)

Get ready to use 6 cups of WHOLE milk. Emeril's recipe calls for 7 cups, but you don't need that much to make this recipe work. In fact, you will have TOO much bechamel, in my opinion. And you really need the milk proteins so skim or 2% is not gonna work and cream is way overboard.
Add 1/2 cup of flour to your mushroom/garlic/onion/butter mixture. And mix it in relatively slowly (over a minute or two). Leave it there for about 2 minutes or so after it is all in to form a light "roux." Then add the milk about a cup at a time stirring between each addition to incorporate.

This is gonna look really thin, but keep stirring it over medium heat for approximately 5-10 minutes until it coats the back of a spoon or hangs a bit in your whisk.

Once it reaches this stage, add a pound of frozen spinach that you have prepared according to the package directions and squeezed out the extra water. There are several ways to do this. I use a strainer and let the spinach sit in there for 10-15 minutes. Then I press it against the strainer with a wooden spoon. However, this cheesecloth method looks like it would work, if you have it available. I like my method because it is cheap and doesn't require that I buy anything extra for the kitchen.

Add the spinach and incorporate with the bechamel. Then add 1.5 cups of grated parmesan. It is nice if you can fresh grate your own, but in reality, even if you buy the cheapie Kraft grated parmesan in a can, this stuff tastes great.Cook 2 minutes over medium then remove from the heat.

Cover your bechamel with a piece of plastic to retard that scummy milk layer that can form.

Next you will need 2 lbs of chicken cooked. I cheated and bought 2 rotisserie chickens in the store and pulled the meat from them. You could also use canned chicken chunks if you are in a bit of a hurry. The best solution is to just nuke a few chicken breasts in the microwave and then slice them up. Add a tablespoon of a chicken rub or seasoning. Of course, Emeril recommends : ESSENCE (what a surprise). I used Tony Cachere. But whatever you have is great and frankly, NOTHING would be okay. There is plenty of flavor in this already.

Now for THE ASSEMBLY. BTW-- I used the NO BOIL lasagna. Please consider using Barillo or Delallo brands. These are Italian imports, reasonably priced and give a very good result. I have not been very impressed by the American made no boil noodles that have the "ridges" in them. Usually one box is enough, but I usually buy two "just in case." If you want to boil the lasagna instead, knock yourself out!

So you should have these things ready :
1. Your warm bechamel sauce ready (total is about 8-9 cups with all those ingredients)
2. A bowl containing your spiced chicken.
3. 1 1/2 cups of Parmesan (or if you prefer Asiago, Romano or Italian blend)

Start by spreading about a cup of the bechamel over the bottom of a pan to keep the noodles from sticking.
Next place a layer of lasagna noodles.

Take out about 1/3rd of the chicken and spread it evenly over the noodles.

Pour two cups of bechamel sauce evenly over the chicken.
I like to do this step with a measuring cup that has a pour spout. This kitchen item is worth its weight in gold, can nearly always be found almost free in a thrift store and makes an excellent gravy bowl to boot.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of Parmesan evenly over chicken/bechamel.
Repeat this with another layer of noodles.
On the last layer, once you have the chicken, bechamel and cheese on top, it is ready for the oven. You may have some leftover bechamel and if so, considering using it to cover the top very well. I also generally at this stage add about a cup of mozzarella shredded to the top, but that can be entirely omitted, if you are cutting calories. Or if you are watching the waistline, except for the bechamel sauce, you could substitute mozzarella in between the layers and on the top.

The end result is creamy and delicious and will serve 8 hungry and 12 normal appetites. Garnish with a basil leaf if desired.

I finished this off for my sweets-craving hubby with a strawberry cheesecake I bought at Kroger...I know. I just ran out of time.

His opinion of the meal:

Lasagna: This is the best white lasagna you have made. I like it.
Cheesecake: Well it is more like pudding than cheesecake, but it tastes good.

Now for the recipe--at the end, I include the link to Emeril's original.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup finely chopped purple onion
3 tsp minced garlic
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
7 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt or truffle salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound frozen spinach, cooked per directions and dried
3 cups grated Parmesan
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken
1 tablespoon chicken seasoning or rub
1 pound oven-ready lasagna sheets
1/2 cup mozzarella
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often until the mushrooms are browned and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and saute until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, to make a light roux, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until thickened, 5 minutes. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, pepper, nutmeg, spinach and 1 1/2 cups of the Parmesan and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the bechamel sauce until ready to assemble the lasagna.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a 9 by 13 by 3-inch casserole, spread about 1/2 cup-1 cup of the bechamel sauce on the bottom of the dish. Lay pasta across the bottom of the dish and spread 1- 1.5 cup of the bechamel sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle 1/3 of the chicken over the bechamel sauce, then sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the remaining Parmesan. Lay another 3 sheets of pasta over the chicken. Repeat 2 additional times with the remaining bechamel sauce, chicken, Parmesan, and pasta. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan and 1/2 c mozzarella over the bechamel sauce Place the casserole on a baking sheet and bake, uncovered, until bubbly and well browned, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.




  1. Okay, a couple of things. I should not be reading this when I'm hungry. The missus is making soup - one of those where you throw in whatever you can find, in this case, hamburger, beans, taco mix and maybe some corn - and those damned beans won't soften up. I'm dying here. That pizzagna sounds amazing. I want some real bad.

    Also, a dutch over apparently isn't what I thought it was.

  2. It is pretty tasty stuff. It took about an hour and a half to make it with the CHEAT on the chicken :)
    I hope you finally got some dinner.
    For all I know, I don't know what a Dutch oven is either. Maybe I will have a quiz about Dutch ovens just to educate myself.
    Thanks for hanging in there with me on this blog...I might look like a beluga at the end of my first year of marriage. If you notice, I think we have only eaten together about 5 times since the honeymoon.

  3. You should package and sell (or give!) samples to your readers. Looks and sounds awesome!

    You should also strive to make lasagna once a week. It is the ultimate comfort food, right up there with mac and cheese.

    Now I'm hungry.