Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore

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I’m not entirely sure if lasagna is a “sexy” enough topic for a blog post, but I’ve had enough people ask me for this recipe over the years that I thought I should share it with all of you. Plus, it seems appropriate to celebrate our first official week of rainy weather with a recipe from my “Celebrate the Rain” cookbook from the Junior League of Seattle. [Sidenote, my career in the Junior League was sadly short lived – but this cookbook was one of the best things I got out of it.]  I’m not ordinarily a huge lasagna fan – I don’t eat red meat, which means I often can’t eat it anyways, but even when there’s a veggie option I find it’s usually heavy and/or mushy and/or bland.  It’s hard for me not to like a dish made up of pasta plus cheese plus tomato sauce, but rarely have I experienced a truly stand out dish – this is one of the few lasagna recipes I’ve found that I can truly say I love. So much so that I made it for a dinner party last week, and have been pouting about lack of leftovers ever since.

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Chicken cacciatore is basically chicken braised in tomato sauce, usually with some combination of onions, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers, and herbs. I made that definition up, but it’s a combination of the first five or so recipes I read after a quick google search. This recipe, as the name implies, is a combination of chicken cacciatore and lasagna. We make a “cacciatore sauce” of sorts using lots of fresh vegetables, shred the chicken into the sauce, and layer it with noodles (or pasta sheets!) like a lasagna, only using mozzarella and parm instead of your typical ricotta layer. While there is still plenty of cheese, it somehow seems so much lighter than traditional lasagna – and so full of veggies that you don’t even feel that bad about going back for seconds.

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This isn’t the quickest of recipes, but as lasagnas go it’s pretty simple to put together. The chopping takes some time, but it’s so worth it. I’m now really wishing I had doubled the recipe, as this will keep well in the freezer (baked or unbaked), and as long as you’re doing one, you might as well do two (or even three!) – the increase in time is marginal. Time saving tips include no-boil noodles or pasta sheets and rotisserie chicken. Boiling lasagna noodles is a total pain – no matter how much oil I add to my cooking water, they seem to always stick together and then break when I try to pull them apart. I’ve used no-boil noodles before and think they’re fine, but I know some people don’t like them – the pasta sheets really are the way to go if you can get them. They’re so easy and so fun, and it makes it a lot easier to serve your lasagna without having to worry about cutting in between the noodles (no pretty ruffles like regular lasagna noodles, though). Rotisserie chicken is a huge time saver, and I find the meat easier to shred. For once I can’t tell you to use the Trader Joe’s pre-chopped onions (my apologies to your eyeballs), but slicing doesn’t take too terribly long.  Pre-grated cheese seems so un-gourmet….but if that’s your thing, I won’t tell and it will still taste yummy.  Honestly though, if you can force yourself to be at least sort of efficient in the kitchen (slice onions while chicken cooks, slice mushrooms/mince garlic/dice pepper while onions cook, grate cheese while sauce simmers, etc.) it really doesn’t take that long to put together.

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Layer your lasagna: noodles, sauce, cheese; repeat; repeat again. Don’t the pasta sheets look so fun?!? Dump an extra can of tomatoes over everything (except the top layer of cheese) if you’re short on sauce (see my note at the bottom of the recipe). You can stop here and then bake later (if you’re making this ahead of time), or freeze now and bake later, or bake and then freeze – the possibilities are endless.  For my aforementioned dinner party, I put the lasagna together ahead of time, went about my day, and then popped it in the oven right before everyone arrived. The house smelled yummy, we had a lovely 30 minute cocktail hour, and then I took the lasagna out of the oven, popped dessert in, and we sat down to a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven dinner (and then an hour later, a bubbling-hot-out-of-the-oven apple crisp).  For someone who’s always scrambling around and doing everything last minute, I was pretty proud of myself!  Lasagna may not be the sexiest blog topic, but it gets major points for the make-ahead factor. Serve with a simple green salad and bread, and it’s a great meal to share with friends – you can sit and chat and enjoy yourself rather than frantically throwing everything together at the last minute. And with a fire in the fireplace and a couple bottles of wine, it’s the perfect meal with which to celebrate the rain.

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Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore, from Celebrate the Rain

Serves 8*

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
3/4 lbs. boneless, chicken chicken breast**
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
10 ounces button mushrooms, brushed clean, trimmed, and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ dice
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes***
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 lb. mozarella cheese, grated
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
12 cooked lasagna noodles OR 9 no-boil lasagna noodles OR 3 fresh pasta sheets

To make sauce:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and cook until browned on the bottom, about 6 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook until tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes longer.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and let cool; reserve the saucepan. When the chicken is cool, shred it and set aside. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions and sauté until tender and lightly browned, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes longer.  Add the bell pepper and sauté until nearly tender, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, black pepper, and dried red pepper flakes. Add the chicken, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.

To prepare lasagna: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Oil a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce (avoiding large chunks of chicken or vegetables) on the bottom of the dish.*** Line the dish with 4 cooked lasagna noodles or 3 no-boil lasagna noodles or one pasta sheet. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Repeat the layering of noodles, sauce, and cheese two more times.  (The lasagna can be prepared a few days ahead, covered with plastic, and refrigerated, or covered securely with plastic and foil and frozen for a few weeks). Bake the lasagna until the cheese turns golden brown in spots and the sauce is bubbling, about 30 minutes (if after 30 minutes the sauce is bubbling but the cheese hasn’t started browning, turn the oven to broil and watch the lasagna carefully – it will brown quickly).  Transfer the dish to a wire rack and let the lasagna sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*The recipe says 8 servings, but I’ve found it usually yields closer to 10-12. You’ll want leftovers, though.
**You could use a store-bought rotisserie chicken here as a shortcut. I usually do, and wondered why I didn’t this time (not that it’s hard to cook the chicken, but I always manage to get oil splattered all over my stovetop). You’ll need about two cups cooked, shredded white meat, skin and bones discarded.  One chicken should yield this easily.
***Every time I make this recipe, I find that I’m way short on sauce (in part probably because my lasagna pan is bigger than 9×13, so this may not be as much of an issue for you). My new trick is to use an extra can of crushed tomatoes – you could use a jar of spaghetti sauce as well if you’re in a pinch.  I like to pour 1/2 cup – 1 cup crushed tomatoes into the bottom of the pan before I start building the lasagna (rather than using the sauce as instructed). Then I do the recommended 1 1/2 cups of sauce per layer (possibly a little more if it looks like that isn’t enough). Once I reach the third layer I’m a little short, so I use up the homemade sauce and then dump the rest of the can of crushed tomatoes over the casserole before I add the final layer of cheese.  You could use a 15.5-ounce can of tomatoes if your lasagna pan is closer to 9×13 size/if you find you aren’t that short on sauce, but I used an entire 28-ounce can this time and it turned out great.  You could also just add the second can of tomatoes to the sauce as you’re making it (along with the can called for), but my saucepan is usually close to overflowing so I’ve been doing it this way.  Making sure the top layer of pasta is fully covered with sauce is especially important if you’re using the no-boil noodles or the fresh pasta sheets as they’ll need the liquid to cook. photo 3

Friday Faves

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{roasted delicata squash}

Happy Friday! What are you all up to? I’m looking forward to a low key weekend for the first time in awhile. We finally have some fall weather in the forecast, and I’m not going to lie, I’m kind of excited to have an excuse to wear my Hunter boots. And I have a ton of apple recipes I want to try, so rainy day baking sounds kind of heavenly. In the meantime, some fun links (recipes, movie reviews, online shopping) and pics to help get you a little closer to 5 pm:

  • I can’t do another butternut squash bowl recipe, but how good do these look?
  • Is it wrong that I want all of the flannel shirts at Madewell right now? Specifically this one, this one, and this one. (Funny story, I was in the store a couple days ago and asked the salesgirl where to find the one she was wearing, as it was my favorite. She told me she found it at the Goodwill for $1.50.  Not what I needed to hear when I was already feeling guilty about paying $80 for something I used to own ten of back in my wannabe-grunge days!!). I should probably order this one from Old Navy instead! New career – splurge/save editor for Us Weekly!?!
  • PSA – the Serena & Lily Friends and Family sale is on now – and it runs through Tuesday, which is perfect timing for me as that’s the day I find out if I’m getting my first niece or another nephew next March! (They have tons of amazing non-baby stuff too though!).
  • Can’t wait to dive into my copy of this book.
  • After literally not going to a movie theatre in what feels like years, I’ve been on a real movie kick lately. I’ve been seeing a ton of previews for The Judge – didn’t get a great review but I’ll probably go see it anyways.

photo-51{i’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time (also, how great is this picture?)}

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{i’m obsessed with these cookies}

photo 4{did you know that when you order any makeup or skincare item from nordstrom.com, you get to select three samples (from about 12 options) to arrive with your purchase? I ordered a new face wash the other week and chose fun samples of la mer moisturizer, la prarie eye and lip cream, and the new jo malone scent – jo malone because i love keeping the sample sizes in my purse; the first two because I could never afford them in real life}

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Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

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Well, we’ve been into fall for three whole days now – can you believe my restraint in not posting 100 pumpkin recipes already? We’re still in that in-between stage, weather wise, but even though it’s not quite soup season, it’s still tomato season and I have a lot of tomatoes to use up.  We’re now twenty months into this blog and this is my tenth soup recipe – far and away my biggest “category.” But really, can you think of a better one-pot meal to get you through the cold and rainy months looming on the horizon?  My barista told me this morning he’s been waiting for the rain for the past five months – by February I’ll deny saying this, but I’m kind of with him, and this soup is one of the main reasons why.

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I thought I had found my favorite tomato soup many years ago – it’s easy, it’s (relatively) healthy, it lets me use up all of the tomatoes I have coming out my ears in August, and it’s from the Barefoot Contessa so you know it’s delicious.  But after making it a couple dozen times over the past month or so, I thought I would mix things up and look for a couple new recipes. And what do you suppose I found? Another Barefoot Contessa option.  It’s not radically different from the first one, but she roasts the tomatoes before adding them to the soup and it really deepens the tomato flavor.  And it calls for white onions rather than red, which means you can use the bags of pre-chopped onions from Trader Joe’s (I’ll do almost anything to avoid chopping onions). Ina never disappoints.

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Roasting is a great way to use up any tomatoes you may have leftover from your summer harvest – simply roast them with oiive oil, salt and pepper, freeze them (with their juices), and then use them for soup all winter long.  And once you run out of frozen tomatoes, roasting the not-so-delicious varieties that they sell at the supermarket in January will make them taste (almost) as good as your home grown ones. I think the basil also makes this soup extra yummy – it calls for sixteen times the amount of basil that the other soup does (sixteen times!! I did this math a couple times just to make sure that’s correct). I initially thought maybe the “four cups” was a typo – but it’s not and it’s amazing. You don’t even have to chop it, just pull the leaves from the stems and dump them in. Don’t skimp on the basil if you can help it (I did a full four cups the first time I made this and it was delicious, and then I was a little short the second time and while of course it was still yummy, I wished I had made the effort to go back to the store and get another bag).

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Add a can of tomatoes (San Marzano is ideal), a box of chicken stock (veggie stock or water to make it vegetarian), the basil and thyme, and then dump in the roasted tomatoes – including all the oil and juices that accumulated in the pan. Simmer for 40 minutes or so and then blend – you don’t even have to add cream (put the calories you save towards your grilled cheese). Ina tells you to use a food mill, but I don’t have one so I use my immersion blender. I suspect a Vitamix would work great as well, or a regular blender or food processor. This soup will freeze nicely – so I would suggest making a double batch, some for now and some for later. You’ll thank me the next time it’s nasty outside and you’re craving a grilled cheese and tomato soup (per the forecast, next week). Happy soup season!

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One year ago: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and pumpkin granola 

Soup, previously: white bean and kale, split pea, cream of fresh tomato, pumpkin black bean, curried butternut squash, cauliflower leek, minestrone, roasted sweet potato and apple, red lentil

Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup, from The Barefoot Contessa

Yield: 6-8 servings

3 lbs ripe tomatoes (Ina suggests plum), sliced in half
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons gold olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (1 large/2 small)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, with juices
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or water

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the tomatoes with 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread mixture in one layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat butter and two tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade or purée with an immersion blender (or in vitamix) until smooth.

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