Chicken Lasagna with Greens

This late summer, I unexpectedly received in the mail two cookbooks on the same day--one from my darling roommate from Steinbeck camp and one from a longtime friend from high school.  I was so filled with gratitude on that day because both of the women (who actually remind me of one another) are strong, wicked smart, and uproariously funny.  They are both the kinds of women I would hope to be.

Let me focus on the giver of this cookbook*--my friend from high school (the other cookbook shall be a focus for a later date).  Where I went to high school is not like your normal high school.  My high school was a 3-year, residential high school for students in the state of Illinois who were talented in math and science (ironically, almost all of my friends went into humanities or business, but that's for another day).  We came together, wide-eyed and nerdy as sophomores and left, perhaps, just as nerdy but surrounded by those who became, in some sense, the most dear to us in our lives.  No one else understood what it was like to spend three years in this school.  In this place, we learned how to fall in love for the first (saccharine and misguided) time, how to cook Ramen, how to defend our closest friends, how to become passionate about learning usually in the wee hours of the night (for me, particularly poetry and more particularly Denise Levertov), how to bend rules to suit our needs and desires (some of which involved ceiling tiles), how to do laundry, how to surround ourselves with books as we lay out in the sun (it was the 90s in Illinois--I regret this part), and how to dance with sweet abandon in any space.

*This cookbook is pretty cool, but I am going to wax on about my high school days.  In another post when I cook from this cookbook again, I shall tell you more about it.  P.S.  This recipe is from page 210!

My closest group of girlfriends was filled with rockstars--one is a brilliant earth mama living a couple hours north of me now who loves fiercely and loyally (and with really good food); another is a lawyer-turned-weekend-warrior who inspires me almost everyday when I see just how much she pushes herself to be the very best; one is a milky-skinned redhead (who understood not to lay out in the sun) whose generosity once extended to sending my a box of food during my starving graduate school days because I wasn't sure I could make it to the next week; another is a breast cancer survivor with whom I once stayed up way too late during finals week not studying but learning how to laugh and laugh and laugh (something I am eternally grateful to her for); one is a stellar veterinarian (one of two scientists!) to whom all beings (furry or not) flock because she accepts them for who they are no matter what or when with an enviable ease and patience; one who left us for southern climes (hurray for New Zealand!) to become an environmentalist whom I have not seen in almost two decades but I think of her often; and then the giver of this book--a hilarious writer whose eye for detail, whose quick wit, and whose fast brain makes mincemeat of those who dare to cross the ones she loves most deeply.  She is one of those people you want to be around because you know you will laugh a lot with her, but she will also ask you to be your most vulnerable.

I never imagined we would become these women.  But I am glad that we did. 

I wish I could have shared this lasagna with them (it makes enough to feed us all--all eight of us!) but we would have had to travel from Miami to Ukiah, Boston to La Jolla, New Zealand to North Carolina, Chicago to Oakland.  But I can imagine now, the dinner would have been filled with five conversations happening at once, most of us involved in two or three of them at the same time.  There would have been a lot of laughing.  There would have been raised voices to make oneself heard.  There would have been a lot of hair.  We were always vain about our hair.

But there would have been a lot of love.

So thank you, my dear friend, for sending me this cookbook, for allowing me to make this fantastic white lasagna laced with tarragon and chard, and for providing me the opportunity to write you this internet love letter. May you all make this lasagna and have the same results.

Chicken Lasagna with Greens

Serves 8

4 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken broth (reduced sodium recommended)
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
14-16 ounces rainbow or red chard (about 2 bunches)
9-12 lasagna noodles
3 cups shredded, poached chicken
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Oil an 11x7 inch glass baking dish with olive oil or coat with nonstick cooking spray.  Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add 3 of the garlic cloves and cook for 30-60 seconds or until fragrant.  Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly.  Whisk in the broth, cream, milk, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly.  reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the tarragon and set aside.

2.  Cut off the chard leaves and the stems.  Slice the leaves about 1/2 inch wide.  There should be about 8 firmly packed cups.  Thinly slice the stems, about 1 cup.

3.  Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the chard stems, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.  Increase the heat to medium-high and add the chard leaves.  Cook, stirring and turning with tongs for 3-4 minutes or until wilted, and add the remaining 2 garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Transfer to a large bowl and cool slightly, pressing on the chard and pouring out any accumulated liquid.

4.  Spoon a light coating of sauce over the bottom of the pan.  Lay 3 noodles in the pan, overlapping as necessary.  Layer one-third of the chard, chicken, sauce, and cheese.  Repeat the layers two more times.  Bake for 55-60 minutes or until golden brown, hot, and bubbly.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.


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