Lemon Chicken Quinoa Bake with Asparagus and Fontina
Logan and I have been together a long time. And the longer we’re together, the more I revel in the fact that it’s cool for us not to love all the same things. I’ve talked about this subject at length before, but I’d like to reiterate that it’s pretty awesome to have reached the point in our relationship where we can support each other’s passions without actually participating in them. (Read: I appreciate the dude’s Widespread Panic fetish, but it’s liberating to scream, “HARD PASS!” and run away when he asks if I’d like to attend a show with him.)
With that said, I feel incredibly lucky that Logan and I happen to have so many shared obsessions. Especially when said obsessions are with somewhat unexpected things. Like Step Brothers. Or quinoa bakes. I mean, there’s nothing quite like a mutual appreciation for the most underrated buddy comedy of all time and whole grain casseroles to solidify your status as soul(room)mates.
Ahhhh, the ties that bind.
To be perfectly honest, Logan loves quinoa bakes even more than I do (which is embarrassing for him given my online rep as the crazy quinoa bake lady), and I’ve come to live for his casserole-induced excitement freakouts. These are few and far between during the summer months, as turning on the oven in my AC-less kitchen makes me borderline suicidal, but I decided to bite the steamy kitchen bullet last week in the name of my favorite healthy comfort food and an expletive-laced Logan compliment rant.
I have no regrets.
I’m fully aware that I say this every single time I post a quinoa bake, but this epic Lemon Chicken Quinoa Bake with Asparagus and Fontina may just be my best yet. It’s super satisfying without being too heavy, and the combo of tender chicken breast, fresh asparagus, and nutty quinoa is the ultimate spring/summer flavor fiesta. Not to mention the three-cheese factor, crunchy panko topping, and bright, lemony finish. 100% worth turning on the oven for, people. (And God knows I hate to sweat.)
Plus, it’s rather fetching with those lemon-rounds on top. I can’t be the only one that’s a sucker for a sexy-looking casserole…
Now that I’ve hopefully fluffed you for this boss bake, let’s head off some potential recipe questions/fears at the pass. First, do not throw in the towel on your quinoa casserole dreams when you see the length of the ingredient list. It seems scary, but once you take a closer look, you’ll realize that it calls for a lot of kitchen/pantry staples (garlic, lemons, dried oregano, milk, etc.), which you should(?) already have on hand. Breathe.
When it comes to cheeses, you’ll need three: Fontina, whole milk ricotta, and Parmesan. In case you’re not familiar, Fontina is an Italian cow’s milk cheese, and I dig its nutty sweetness and killer melting ability for this particular bake, but if you can’t find it at your local market, Gouda, Gruyère, or provolone are all great subs. The ricotta is crucial for creaminess, so even though you’ll only need ½ cup, please don’t skip it. If you’re feeling indulgent, go ahead and treat yo’self to some Buffalo ricotta. (Then spread the leftover cheese on toast and top it with sliced stone fruits and honey. Do itttt.) And just FYI, the cheese flavor is very much there in this recipe, but the filling is not crazy cheesy. This was intentional on my part (#nakedseason), but cheese lovers should feel free to add an additional ¼ cup ricotta and ¼-½ cup Fontina into the mix if it feels right.
Let’s talk prep for a hot sec. This bake is going to require a decent time commitment—I’m talking about an hour and 15 minutes—but the process itself is relatively painless, I promise. If you’re cooking your own chicken breasts (versus using the breast meat from a store-bought rotisserie bird), you can do that while you simmer the quinoa. Prep the veggies/cheeses in the meantime, then all you have to do is sauté the asparagus, combine the rest of the ingredients in the skillet, top the whole shebang with plenty of cheese and breadcrumbs, and pop it in the oven for 25 minutes. Done and done. I recommend a chilled glass of Sancerre and some Hotel Costes Pandora to enhance the cooking experience.
And in case you were wondering, Logan lost his shit over this bake exactly as I hoped he would. The freakout actually started in an Uber on his way home when he called to ask about dinner. As soon as I said “quinoa bake,” he shrieked, “FUCK YEAH!! Daddy like!!! Is it the cheeseburger one?!” The dude was slightly disappointed when I told him that it was a lemon chicken sitch (he was hoping for Dude Diet Cheeseburger Quinoa Bake, which is his favorite book recipe…T-3 months), but after the first bite of this flavor-packed bad boy, he perked right back up. There were a lot of appreciation grunts and muttered “holy shits” while he tried to eat and awkwardly side hug me at the same time. Great success.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Quinoa bakes are good for your relationship. Get on board.
Lemon Chicken Quinoa Bake with Asparagus and Fontina: (Serves 6)
1¼ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or water)
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
5 garlic cloves, minced
½ pound asparagus spears, woody ends removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
Fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon, chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups cubed or shredded chicken breast (I cooked 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts using this method.)
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1½ lemons (This is very lemony, so if you don’t LOVE lemon, start with the juice of just 1.)
¼ cup 2% milk
½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1¼ cups grated creamy Fontina cheese, divided
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
For garnish: (optional)
1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds
Chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preparing your Lemon Chicken Quinoa Bake with Asparagus and Fontina:
-Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.
-Start by cooking the quinoa! Combine the quinoa and chicken broth in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover the saucepan with a lid, and cook for about 14 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Let the quinoa rest, covered for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
-Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large (12- to 14-inch) ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the shallot and garlic and cook for 2 minutes until the shallots are translucent and the garlic is fragrant.
-Add the asparagus, season generously with salt and fresh ground pepper, and cook for 2-3 minutes until crisp-tender and bright green. (Don’t overcook the asparagus, people! You don’t want it to become complete mush in the oven.)
-Stir in thyme, oregano, chicken breast, lemon juice and zest. Turn off the heat and carefully stir in the cooked quinoa, along with the milk, ricotta and ½ cup of the Fontina. Taste and season with extra salt and pepper if needed.
-In a small bowl, combine the Parmesan and panko. Lightly smooth the top of the quinoa mixture. Add the remaining ¾ cup Fontina in an even layer and sprinkle with the cheesy panko. Decorate the top of your casserole with thinly sliced lemon rounds if you’re feeling fancy.
-Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the topping is lightly browned. (Sometimes I pop mine under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to give the bread crumbs some extra color.) Garnish with chopped parsley and serve warm.
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