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Chicken bolognese lasagna

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

I love lasagna but hesitate to make it because of the recipes I have been very involved in. Lasagna is the epitome of slow cooking, each sauce is cooked individually, slowly braised to bring out flavours and then assembled and baked at low temperatures to let the flavours integrate. I also try and cut down on the carbohydrates of the pasta, so all my lasagnas have just three sheets of pasta, but the internal layers are a lot more. Finally, I used ground chicken here, instead of lamb or beef, for a lighter flavoured dish.

This dish is everything a good lasagna should be, layers of flavour that come together on your palate and it is built to be a comfort dish. The bottom layer of spicy tomato sauce sets the tone with bright and bold flavours, the slow-cooked chicken is mellow and gooey from the mozzarella cheese and the Béchamel top is crisp and adds creaminess. This is a lasagna that is divine, I particularly love the crunchy and burnt edges.

As a note, you can make just the bolognese sauce and enjoy it on pasta, a much simpler recipe.

This dish combines two recipes, the bolognese from Marcella Hazan and the tomato sauce and Béchamel from Deborah Madison.

Marcella Hazan is my favourite Italian cookbook author. I have a number of her cookbooks and I have cooked from them often. Her recipes are authentic Italian without the fuss, but each recipe is beautifully flavoured and delicious. This is the chef whose cookbooks I go to for great Italian food.

For more recipes from this cookbook click here.

Deborah Madison was one of the first chefs to embrace the farm-to-table movement when she opened her restaurant Greens, one I have dined at a few times. Her cookbooks are wonderful, and this one, in particular, is amazing. Simple recipes that are loaded with flavour. Like me, you should get all her cookbooks, each is a masterpiece!

For more wonderful recipes from this cookbook, click here.


For the chicken bolognese:

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup onion, finely diced

1/2 cup celery, finely diced

1/2 cup carrots, finely diced

1 lb ground chicken

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon pepper

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup dry white wine

1 1/2 cups tomatoes, finely diced

Water, as needed

For the tomato sauce:

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced

3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt, to taste

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

1 1/2 lb tomatoes, finely diced

1/2 cup red wine

Sugar, as needed

Water, as needed

For the Béchamel sauce:

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

Salt, to taste

A pinch nutmeg

A generous pinch of pepper

Additional ingredients:

7-8 lasagna sheets, cooked as per manufacturer's instructions on the box.

1 cup shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

To make the chicken bolognese:

Heat the oil on medium-low heat in a large pot and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 3-4 minutes till the onions are soft and translucent but not coloured. Add the celery and carrots and sauté on medium heat for an additional 5 minutes till the carrots are soft. Be careful that the vegetables do not take on any colour. If they are turning brown, turn the heat to low and cook.

Add the ground chicken, the remaining salt and pepper and sauté on medium heat till the chicken is cooked through and no longer looks raw. During this time work the mix with a wooden spatula to break the chicken into a small crumble. It is a continuous process but an important step to get a good bolognese that is not lumpy.

Once the meat is cooked add the milk and nutmeg and simmer till the milk is completely evaporated and the mix is dry again. Add the wine and cook again till all the wine has evaporated. Add the tomatoes and their juice and simmer the chicken, covered, for 1 hour. Mix the sauce every 10-12 minutes and make sure the sauce does dry out, if it looks dry add 1/4 cup water and mixes in well.

When the sauce has finished simmering, taste and adjust the salt. The sauce should have a small crumble and be sloppy and thick. It should taste fantastic, good enough to put on pasta and enjoy.

To make the tomato sauce:

Heat the oil in a pot and add the onions and garlic and a pinch of salt. Sauté on low heat for 3-4 minutes till the onions are soft and translucent. Do not colour. Add the marjoram, oregano, salt, pepper and chilli flakes, if using, and stir in to mix well. Add the tomatoes and wine and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 60 minutes stirring the sauce every 15 minutes or so. Check that the liquids are not evaporating, if you feel it is dry, add 1/4 cup water or as needed. The tomatoes should be broken down completely and the sauce should be thick. Cool the sauce and purée with a hand blender or in a small blender till smooth. Taste and adjust salt and spice as desired. The sauce should be bold and full of flavour.

To make the Béchamel sauce:

Heat the butter in a small pot and when hot add the flour. Cook on low heat whisking constantly till the flour has turned a light gold. Add the salt, nutmeg and pepper and give a quick stir. Add the milk (cold) in a thin stream continuously whisking it into the flour mix. The flour will start to clump, but it will break up eventually and form a smooth sauce. Whisk till the sauce has thickened. Set aside to cool. Remember, the sauce will thicken further, so take it off a bit runnier than you would like the final sauce to be. It should have the consistency of heavy cream.

To assemble the dish:

Layer the tomato sauce at the bottom of a buttered oven-safe dish (14' X 8'). Layer with one sheet of cooked lasagna sheet. It is okay to cut the sheet to fit. Layer the chicken bolognese on top of this sheet. Add a generous scattering of mozzarella cheese. Add the second layer of the lasagna sheets. Top with the Béchamel sauce, thinning it out with a touch of milk if it is too thick. Spread into an even layer on the pasta sheet. Sprinkle, generously, the Parmesan cheese. You can store the lasagna covered tightly with a lid or foil in the fridge till needed.

Heat the oven to 375 F.

Bring the lasagna to room temperature and bake tightly sealed with foil for 60 minutes. Remove the foil and bake open for another 20 or so minutes till the top has browned and the edges are almost burnt and crispy. Allow to cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack and serve. Although the lasagna can be made in advance and heated in the oven again, however, it is best served immediately.

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