Initially, I thought I might share a traditional lasagna today. One requiring a slow-cooked sauce, a high-maintenance béchamel sauce, and par-boiled noodles laid out just so in a baking dish. But, after evaluating what I thought I “should” do versus what I wanted I brought together the same ingredients in an easy, more time efficient way and ended up with what I wanted: A comforting plate of pasta and sauce topped with melted cheese. Because, in the end, what matters are the flavors and feelings we get from a delicious plate of food and this skillet chicken lasagna delivers on all those good things.
Perfectly stacked layers aren’t always what it’s about, right?
We All Go Way Back
And, like a lot of my recipes, there’s a story of how I got from there to here and this one started two weekends ago after I packed my bags and drove eight hours to spend the weekend with my best friend, Kristen, and her husband, James. We’ve all been friends for years and years and I’d be remiss not to share a little of our history.
Kristen and I first connected on a 10-countries-in-10-days trip we took in Junior High School along with 20 other awkward teenagers. I’d like to say the grandeur of Europe strengthened our bond, but, instead, what cemented our budding friendship was a mutual love of the band “Chicago” and our infatuation with two boys on the trip. The story was a great one set against a blurry European background dotted with famous monuments and museums.
Eight years later I met James in a smoky, rowdy bar called The Buckhorn, an establishment so fine there are actual gun-shot holes in the walls from the wild west days. It’s where we went to drink $1 beers and sing along with the juke box to old Johnny Cash songs long into the night. We were in college and it’s what we did after long days hitting the books and acing exams (<– half truth). Not long after he and I met our three worlds collided at a beer festival where introductions were made and, long story short, Kristen and James hit it off, eventually moved East, and got married.
There’s a photo of the three of us at that day. Kristen and James are sitting against a rock smiling in that way when something new is happening, but you have no idea what’s in store. I’m standing on the rock above them, warrior-princess style. We still talk about that photo, that day, and marvel at how far we’ve come since that day when our lives intertwined.
And I’m grateful, after all that has happened, that they are just an 8-hour drive away. I knew, late last summer, when I found myself alone, scared, confused, and engulfed in sadness, I could get in my car and drive to their doorstep with no questions asked. It was such a gift.
Chicken Skillet Lasagna
So it was during this most recent trip, sometime between our Friday glasses of wine and Sunday Target excursion, Kristen mentioned she liked to make chicken lasagna. And, as usual, the mere mention of a pan of pasta layered with meat sauce and cheese was enough to trigger a serious craving, so that’s how this post came to be.
At first, a complicated multi-step lasagna found its way into my plans, but a lasagna that Kristen might want to make more than “every once in a while” pulled me away from those initial plans. It was then that I remembered a recipe from Pinch of Yum that took the best parts of a lasagna — cheese, meat, and pasta — and rearranged them, low maintenance-style, in a skillet.
And that’s how we got to here.
I could have made a traditional lasagna, but this skillet chicken lasagna, not unlike our best friendships, is easy, approachable, and comforting.
And all of that stuff matters more than perfectly stacked layers.
Some Tips & Ingredients You’ll Need
- First, a note about the sauce. I used ground chicken, but any lower fat meat will do well, so if you substitute beef look for 85%-90% lean. Ground turkey would also be great. Second, instead of browning the chicken I cooked it directly in the sauce. The chicken almost melts cooking it this way creating a sauce that has a smoother texture. Finally, I made a simple tomato sauce from scratch using mostly pantry ingredients, but use your favorite jarred spaghetti sauce to make this recipe even easier to pull off.
- Use a large oven-safe skillet with straight sides. First you’ll make the sauce and then tuck pieces of broken lasagna noodles into it, so having plenty of space is good.
- I dropped scoops of ricotta, Parmesan, and cubed mozzarella cheese in to the sauce and noodles.
- I love a lasagna dripping with sauce, so serving this with bread on the side ensures every last smear of sauce disappears.
More Pasta Recipes
30-Minute One Pan Beef Penne “You know it’s good stuff when both kids, who don’t agree on anything, ask you make it again.” – Anca, GGG reader
One pan + 30 Minutes = A cozy weeknight dinner.
Grown-Up Beefaroni “I have made this recipe a couple times and love it!” – Kelley, GGG reader
A childhood favorite gets a grown-up make-over with tender oven braised short ribs in a rich homemade tomato sauce. This beefaroni is comfort food at it’s best.
Baked Tortellini“This was amazing. Just made it tonight.” – Chris, GGG reader
Store-bought tortellini baked up in a simple meat sauce and topped with cheese. 20ish minutes in the oven and dinner is served.
The chicken lasagna idea was inspired by my best friend and the inspiration to use a skillet to bring it all together came from a recipe, Easy One Pot Lasagna, I found on Pinch of Yum. All the must-haves are here: melted cheese and tender pasta cooked together in a simple meat sauce. It’s extra saucy, so serve it with plenty of crusty bread on the side.
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 32 ounces crushed tomatoes (see note for shortcut)
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, divided
- ½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, plus 1 tablespoon
- 8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, cubed (see note)
- 5-6 no boil lasagna noodles, broken into quarters
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine 16 ounces (half the total amount) of crushed tomatoes with all of the spices in a large skillet. Add the ground chicken and turn the heat on to medium. Stir the chicken, breaking it up with a spatula or spoon. As the chicken releases it’s moisture maintain the heat at a simmer and cook it for about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the crushed tomatoes and 1/2 tablespoon of chopped parsley and stir to combine. Let the sauce simmer while you prepare the cheese.
- Combine the ricotta cheese, egg, 1/4 cup of Parmesan, and mozzarella in medium bowl.
- Place the broken lasagna pieces in the sauce using a spoon or spatula to nestle them down in the sauce. Try to spread them out evenly throughout the sauce. Scoop a generous tablespoon of the cheese mixture on the sauce. Repeat with the rest of the cheese. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan over the top. Optional: Add thin slices of mozzarella over the top. Using a vegetable peeler works well for this.
- Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until bubbly and hot. Garnish with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of parsley.
Instead of using fresh mozzarella, which can make this dish watery, look for blocks of low-moisture mozzarella cheese. I like to cube it so each bite has a blob of melted cheese, but grating to works well, too.
Use your favorite store-bought pasta sauce to make this recipe even easier. If you do, don’t worry about using the onion powder, garlic powder, and Italian seasonings and decrease the salt to 1/2 teaspoon.