Chicken Parmigiana - A dish that contains most of the good things in life; garlic, crisp and salty crumbed chicken, basil, a rich tomato sauce and lots of gooey, stringy melted cheese. The alluring scent of a good chicken parm is all that you wish for in an Italian restaurant: Garlic, tomato, oregano, hope and dreams.
Sadly there are two factors that usually prevent me from eating this magical dish.
With the exception of Nandos I have a strict no chicken policy when eating out. Why? It’s not that I don’t like chicken; in fact quite the opposite, it’s one of my most commonly eaten foods. I do believe it stems from the time when the world and their mother thought it quite ingenious to stuff a chicken breast with mozzarella cheese and then wrap it in Palma ham. Thus giving birth to the main course on 90% of all episodes of Come Dine With Me. In addition it’s usually the most boring dish on the menu, the afterthought, unloved, dry and uninspiring. Safer to avoid.
My slight (read massive) obsession with Pizza actually prevents me from being able to enter an Italian restaurant without ordering a pizza of some description. It’s like I have tourrettes, however a rather fortunate version that always ends in pizza. Sadly all other menu items get overlooked.
So poor old chicken parm, always the bridesmaid and never the bride - it just doesn’t seem to get a look in, despite being one of my favourite dishes. Another nail in its breadcrumbed coffin…it’s not exactly the healthiest of dishes, I do try to avoid ordering fried foods where possible.
In order to fill this parmigiana shaped void I developed a version of the dish a few years ago when I was working on a healthy makeover feature for a magazine. I’ve tweaked it a little over the years and now this virtually sin-free dish is a firm favourite on the weeknight rotation.
You can whip this up in next to no time too especially if you forgo the hidden veg sauce, and just use passata or tinned tomatoes seasoned with salt, pepper and 1 tsp of oregano. I make the sauce because I usually have the time plus I like to get as many veggies into our diet as possible; this is one of the only ways my other half will eat carrots. If it ain’t broke…
Lighter Chicken Parmigianino
FOR THE CHICKEN
2 chicken breasts
1 tsp chicken seasoning
pinch dried oregano
1 egg white
2 tsp fine semolina or flour
about 25g panko breadcrumbs (or use regular breadcrumbs, panko give you a lovely crunchy crumb though)
FOR THE HIDDEN VEG SAUCE
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp garlic puree
1 tsp oregano
1 tbsp of light soft cheese, ricotta or mascarpone (this helps to neutralise the acidity of the sauce)
Chilli flakes (optional)
25g Parmesan cheese, grated
About 75g mozzarella cheese, roughly chopped
Salad, greens or pasta, to serve
1 Start with the chicken. Take each breast in turn and cut through lengthways but not all the way to the edge, starting from the fatter side, to open out like a book. See pic. Repeat.
2 Sprinkle with the chicken seasoning and the semolina or flour and rub to coat evenly. Put the egg in one bowl and the panko crumbs in another, add the oregano and some S&P to the crumbs. Take each chicken breast and dip in the egg, then the crumbs, coating both side. Transfer to a plate, repeat with the next breast and keep chilled until ready to cook.
3 If making the sauce cook the vegetables in a little oil of your choice until softened. Add the garlic & oregano then stir and cook for 1 minute before tipping in both the tomatoes. Cover and leave to simmer gently for at least 15 mins but up to an hour. Season to taste and melt in the soft cheese. Blend with a stick blender. Add torn basil and chilli flakes (if using) this sauce is great for tricking boyfriends or children into eating their veggies. It’s good with pasta, meatballs, sausages most things and can be made in a big batch and frozen.
3 Heat grill to medium and oven to 200C/180C fan. Put the chicken on a lightly oiled baking sheet and grill one side for about 3-4 minutes, until golden. Pour your tomato sauce into a roasting tray. Scatter with more basil. Place your chicken, cooked side down, onto the sauce then top with the cheeses. Cook in the oven for 15-18 mins, until golden and bubbling. For extra crunch flash under the grill again after cooking, but keep an eye on it or it will catch quickly. Serve with salad, greens, or pasta if you like.
NB. This recipe makes quite a lot of sauce, enough for when eating it with pasta, if you don’t like it quite as saucy then freeze half of the sauce or keep it in the fridge for up to 3 days.