Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Playdate Special: Chicken Parmesan & Zucchini Pasta

Few dishes in my repertoire have been subject to as much experimentation as chicken parmesan. The dish is my husband's favorite, and I made it a mission early in our life together to come up with a version that would make him very happy without shortening his life span. And if I sound like I stepped straight out of a 1950s kitchen in a starched apron, well, I count chicken parm among my favorites as well.

I experimented with fresh bread crumbs, nonstick pans, oven-baking instead of pan-frying. We ate a lot of subpar chicken parm before hitting on this version, which slips in a few healthy tweaks but places a premium on taste. I swap out eggs in favor of egg whites (or Egg Beaters), use white whole wheat flour, and add a spoonful of flaxseed meal that goes unnoticed. In my mind, these adjustments more than make up for the indulgence of a bit of fresh mozzarella draped on top.

For a midday meal, we paired it with zucchini pasta from the New York Times. It's a fun and tasty take on zucchini that can be prepared in a snap.

We put the kids to work making dessert: Smitten Kitchen's monkey bread with cream cheese glaze. My boys revved up the mixer early in the morning so the dough could rise before our playdate. Their friends helped make quick work of coating balls of dough in butter and then cinnamon sugar. The hard part was waiting for it to bake -- my 3-year-old spent the better part of the half-hour sitting expectantly at the table repeating: "Did the timer go off yet?" If you haven't tried it, monkey bread is a great project with kids. It tastes like cinnamon rolls -- especially with the cream cheese glaze -- and it's great fun pulling off hunks of gooey, caramel-coated bread.

Chicken Parmesan

I usually plan for half a chicken breast, maybe a little more, per adult. I prefer a cast-iron pan to a non-stick skillet; use less oil if you go with non-stick, but make sure there's enough to get a nice, golden crust.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour
3 egg whites or two whole eggs
1 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
3/4 teaspoon dried basil or oregano
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon flaxseed meal (optional)
 olive oil
2 cups tomato sauce
4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese

Trim fat from chicken breasts. Lay chicken on plastic wrap, shiny and smooth side up, and put another piece of plastic wrap on top. Pound gently with mallet or rolling pin to flatten chicken to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut each flattened piece in half.
Combine flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl. In a second bowl, beat egg whites gently with a fork. In a third bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, herbs, garlic powder, and flaxseed meal, if using.
Dip each piece of chicken in flour to coat, then egg white, and then bread crumb mixture. Set aside on a plate while you prepare the remaining pieces.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot, pour in a spoonful or so of olive oil. When hot, carefully set chicken in skillet. Don't overcrowd the pan; you'll probably need to cook in two or more batches. Cook chicken 3 to 4 minutes, until crispy and golden. Using tongs, flip chicken over and cook another 3 to 4 minutes until no longer pink inside. Adjust the heat if breadcrumb coating isn't crisping (not hot enough) or is burning (too hot).
Spread one cup of tomato sauce in a baking dish large enough to hold the chicken. Place chicken pieces on top, then spread the second cup of sauce on top. Scatter slices of mozzarella cheese over everything, then place under broiler until cheese is melted.

Zucchini Pasta

Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman. You could top this with tomato sauce, but I prefer it plain.

3 zucchini
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Parmesan cheese

Use a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini into long, thin ribbons. Stop when you get to the seeds and throw out the core.
Heat a half-tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring gently, for about three minutes until the zucchini softens and becomes translucent. Add salt and pepper to taste and transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My Monkey bread never looks like that! Although I use frozen bread dough. I am going to try this recipe. Thanks! Rosanne


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