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Chicken and vegetables make this lasagna a well-rounded meal

ot too long ago, my Aunt Julie asked me to come up with a good creamy lasagna recipe for a birthday dinner she was having.

This is the recipe I came up with for her.

Chicken and vegetable lasagna makes a nice size tray that can serve many people. You also could have leftovers for quick weeknight warm-ups, lunches or snacks.

The day or two prior to making this dish, you can cook your mushrooms and zucchini up, grate your fontina and mozzarella cheeses and store them tightly sealed, cook the chicken and dice it.

Try to make things as easy as possible for yourself that when your dinner evening comes you are not too tired to enjoy. This lasagna also makes a great dinner or party tray and is very versatile because it can be made with seasonal vegetables to serve all-year long.

You can use most of your favorite vegetables in this dish and make it your own.

The Mornay sauce is also so creamy and delicious. It compliments the pasta, chicken and vegetables so well.

Whether you make this lasagna for a weekend family meal, for game day or for a special gathering such as Mother’s Day, you will fall in love with this easy, hearty, delicious alternative to tomato lasagna.

If you make this recipe, send me a photo. I really like to see your creations.

Chef’s note: Chicken and vegetable lasagna can be made ahead of time the day before and stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it. If you freeze this lasagna tray, take it out one day prior to your gathering and store it in your refrigerator overnight. Just remember to set out the lasagna from the fridge one hour prior to baking it whether it was frozen or straight from the refrigerator.

Chicken and vegetable lasagna

1 pound of lasagna noodles, cooked to al dente

4 cups of whole milk

1 pound of ricotta

2 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on; at room temperature

2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 cup Fontina cheese, shredded

1 large egg

½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated and divided into ¼-cup sized portions

2 small green or yellow zucchini squash, sliced

8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped fresh parsley, optional

Prepare the chicken. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the chicken on a sheet pan, skin side up, and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Roast the chicken breasts for about 25-30 minutes until the chicken registers 160 degrees on a cooking thermometer. Do not overcook the chicken.

Set the cooked chicken aside to cool then dice it to medium-sized chunks and set aside. You can keep the oven on at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cook your lasagna noodles as directed on the box and to al dente.

Melt your butter in a large heavy bottom saucepan over medium high heat. Once the butter is melted, add minced garlic and saute for about one minute until fragrant. Add your flour to your butter and garlic. Whisk the flour in for a minute or two to cook out the raw flour taste. While whisking, slowly add your milk. You may see lumps, but all will smooth out with whisking. Turn the mixture on to medium high heat and cook while whisking until the mixture bubbles and is thickened. Turn down the heat and cook 1 minute. Turn off the heat, remove the pan and add your grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the sauce. Mix. Season with salt and black pepper (and nutmeg if using spinach). Mix again. Cover sauce until ready to use.

In a separate bowl, mix ricotta, egg, salt and black pepper to taste.

In a small saute pan, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Over medium high heat, slowly add your mushrooms and zucchini. Saute for a few minutes until the zucchini and mushrooms take on a little color. Then add a little bit of salt and pepper to the sauteed vegetables.

Chef’s notes: You can change out the mushrooms and zucchini for sautéed fresh spinach, a jar of marinated artichokes that have been diced, etc. You can change the recipe up to add your favorite green vegetables.

Once all parts are cooked, in a lasagna baking tray, spoon and spread a small amount of your cheese sauce into the bottom of the pan. Add one-third of your lasagna noodles orderly and evenly over the sauce. Add ½ of your ricotta mixture and spread evenly over the lasagna noodles. Add ½ of your diced chicken, then the mushrooms and zucchini evenly. Add some of your sauce and sprinkle with 1/3 of your shredded cheese. Repeat the layers.

Cover your lasagna with greased parchment paper and aluminum foil, and bake for 45-55 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit, until bubbling. You can set your lasagna pan on a large baking sheet pan, in case any of the sauce runs over.

Uncover the lasagna and broil for about 3-5 minutes or until light golden brown on top. Sprinkle fresh chopped parsley over the top of your lasagna as a garnish.

Allow your lasagna casserole to set up for about 15-20 minutes before servings.

Sarah Schweitzer is dual-certified in Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry from the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. She is a former line cook for Chef Robert Irvine at “Fresh Kitchen by Robert Irvine” which was located at the Downtown Allentown Market. Sarah is currently working as a Sous-Chef at Ateira’s on First and has her own blog simplysarah.online. She can be reached at sarah.schweitzer18@gmail.com.

A close-up of a pan of chicken and vegetable lasagna. SARAH SCHWEITZER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS