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Eric Akis: Three-cheese chicken lasagna with mushrooms and spinach

A reader, Helen, asked if I could feature a creamy chicken lasagna recipe that used more than one type of cheese. That sounded like a tasty idea, so I set to work.
Three-cheese chicken lasagna with mushrooms and spinach could be served with a green or Caesar salad. ERIC AKIS

A reader, Helen, asked if I could feature a creamy chicken lasagna recipe that used more than one type of cheese. That sounded like a tasty idea, so I set to work.

I started by simmering chicken thighs in stock until they were cooked and richly flavoured by the stock. When it was cool enough to handle, I removed the chicken thigh meat from the bone and pulled it into shreds.

I then began preparing and setting out the other items I would layer in my lasagna, including a white sauce made with milk and cream, fresh baby spinach, sautéed nicely seasoned mushrooms and a mix of mozzarella, asiago and Parmesan cheeses.

I used the dried noodles you have to boil until just tender before draining and using, not the dried oven-ready type. Although the latter is convenient because you can use the noodles straight out of the box, I find that as they soften and cook in the lasagna, they soak up all the sauce, no matter how much extra you use. That can cause your lasagna to be dry.

That said, if you want to use the dried oven-ready type of lasagna noodle, I suggest you do what Food Network celebrity Ina Garten does before she uses them: Fill a very large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and allow them to sit, submerged in the water, 20 minutes, and then drain. At that point, the noodles will have softened and will be less likely to soak up all the sauce in the lasagna as it cooks.

I said my lasagna serves six to eight, because I could imagine a person with a hearty appetite enjoying a large slab of it. If that’s too many servings for you, the leftover lasagna, once cooled, could be cut into single-serving portions and frozen, to thaw and reheat the next time you feel like having some.

Three-Cheese Chicken Lasagna with Mushrooms and Spinach

This lasagna layers together noodles, shreds of chicken, white sauce, mushrooms, spinach and three types of cheese. Serve it with a green or Caesar salad.

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: about 105 minutes

Makes: six to eight servings

4 medium to large, bone-in chicken thighs (about 650 grams; see Eric’s options)

3 cups chicken stock

340 grams mozzarella cheese, grated (about 3 1/2 cups)

100 grams asiago cheese, grated (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup freshly and finely grated Parmesan cheese (not the dried powdered type)

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp butter

1 lb. (about 24) small to medium brown or white mushrooms, or mix of both, thinly sliced

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp smoked paprika

• salt and white pepper to taste

1 cup half and half (10 per cent) cream

2 3/4 cups milk (divided)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

16 dry lasagna noodles, cooked as per package directions and cooled

2 cups packed fresh baby spinach leaves

• chopped freshly parsley, to taste (optional)

Place chicken thighs and stock in a pot (mine was eight inches wide). Set over medium heat and bring stock to simmer. Simmer chicken until cooked and almost falling off the bone, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Lift chicken out of the pot and on to a plate and cool until safe to handle. Cool stock left in the pot to room temperature, then refrigerate or freeze for another use, such as soup or gravy.

When chicken has cooled, remove and discard skin. Pull the meat off the bones. Pull that meat into shreds and refrigerate until needed. Combine cheeses in a bowl and refrigerate until needed.

Place oil and butter in a very large skillet set over medium-high heat. When butter is melted, add mushrooms and cook until tender and the moisture seeping out of them has evaporated, about six minutes. Add garlic, oregano, basil and paprika, season mushrooms with salt and pepper, and cook and stir one minute more. Remove mushrooms from the heat and set them aside for now.

Pour cream and 2 1/4 cups of the milk into a pot and set over medium heat. When mixture is just barely simmering, place the remaining 1/2 cup milk and flour in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk this mixture into the simmering milk/cream and cook until this white sauce thickens slightly. Remove sauce from the heat; stir in the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 F. To assemble lasagna, spoon and spread 1/2 cup of the white sauce into a 13-by-9-inch baking dish (mine was two inches deep). Top that sauce with four noodles.

Top and spread those noodles with 3/4 cup of the sauce. On top of that sauce, disperse 1/4 of the cheese mixture, 1/3 of the chicken, 1/3 of the mushrooms and 1/3 of the spinach.

Set on another layer of four noodles. Top and spread those noodles with 3/4 cup of the sauce. Top that sauce with 1/3 of the remaining cheese mixture, half the remaining chicken, half the remaining mushrooms and half the remaining spinach.

Top with another layer of four noodles. Top and spread those noodles with 3/4 cup of the sauce. Top that sauce with half the remaining cheese mixture, and the remaining chicken, mushrooms and spinach.

Set on the last four noodles. Spread the top layer of noodles with the remaining sauce and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Cover lasagna and bake 40 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 minutes more, or until light golden brown on top and bubbly.

Let the lasagna rest 10 minutes or so before cutting and serving. If desired, sprinkle plated servings of the lasagna with chopped parsley, to taste.

Eric’s options: If you have leftovers from a roast chicken, or bought a store-rotisserie/barbecue chicken, 2 cups of the shredded meat from it could replace the thighs used here.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.