Some days are so sweet the taste from them lingers inside your soul. I have had some days like that, and most recently I felt that lingering sweetness on a day we spent hiking the Cinque Terra in Italy.
I’d never even heard of the Cinque Terra, but friends we were traveling with had their hearts set on hiking the trail between these five coastal cities. We took a train to Corniglia, the city where we began our hike. The trail traversed up the side of a mountain back and forth narrowly and then down through some city streets until we finally reached the dirt trail that led across the mountainside. To our left was the ocean and to our right vineyards, rock faces, and tiny homes brightly colored and sprinkled across the mountainside. The views were spectacular.
As we descended into Vernazza the conversation was turning towards lunch and where we would eat. We were all hungry and ready for a place to sit and for something to drink. We rounded a curve on the trail and saw a café situated on the side of the mountain. Tables and chairs with large blue umbrellas rested precariously on the terrace, welcoming hungry hikers. A man invited us in and ushered us to a table high above the others on a “terrace” of its own.
“Today’s specials are traditional lasagna, hot from the oven or our pesto lasagna…very good.”
Pesto Lasagna. That sounded intriguing, and as he explained that the white wine they offered came from grapes that had been growing for thousand years in the Cinque Terra I knew the pesto lasagna would be my choice.
Last week as I stood at my kitchen window looking at the large bunch of basil I had brought home from the farmers market I decided to venture out and make my own pesto lasagna.
I have to tell you that it wasn’t the cheapest meal I’ve made. The small container of pine nuts was $10 and the Pecorino Reggiano cheese I got was another $10. Still, the final results were well worth the money!
Tracy’s Basil Pesto Chicken Lasagna
Box of Lasagna noodles cooked (uncooked ready to use noodles are permissible, but the end results are less desirable)
Cooked Chicken Diced (I like the pre cooked grilled chicken strips you can find at Costco…but you add whatever feels easy in your world)
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Sardo or Romano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
So…you can do this with a mortar and pestle, or if you don’t have one (which I do not) I found that my blender worked just great. Combine the basil and pine nuts and garlic and olive oil in blender until it forms a paste. Spoon paste into a bowl and add cheeses and salt and pepper. (May be refrigerated until you are ready to use)
White Sauce of Goodness (which has an Italian name I don’t know):
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 1/2 cups whole milk
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the 1/2 cup butter in a pan over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon… slowly toast the flour without burning it.
Warm up the milk and gradually ladle into the pot with the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly while bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes. Season the sauce with freshly grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter a 13 by 9 by 4 baking dish and add a thin layer of white sauce. Cover with a layer of lasagna noodles, and then another thin layer of sauce. Gently spread about 4 tablespoons pesto across the surface, add some chicken and then top with about 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Repeat until you finish layering the lasagne. Top with a final layer of noodles and spread a final very thin layer sauce, pesto and finally Parmesan cheese.
Cook the lasagne for about 30 minutes.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories and a reluctant dreamer, living by faith that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick but when dreams come true there is a life and joy” (Pro. 13:12). Married for 26 years, she is mother to five kids. After nearly a half century of life, she’s feeling like she may know who she is. Founder of Seized by Hope Ministries, she writes here.