March 24, 2010

Pasta + Chicken + Cheese = Happy hubby

Today's recipe is an example of how my "small bag of tricks" can translate into a pretty good variety of meals. It combines the same fried chicken technique as honey barbecue wings, with an application for my trusty tomato soup-and-sauce base.

Chunky Chicken Parmesan

What I used for this dish:
  • Multi-use tomato base (recipe here)
  • Oregano, basil, cilantro & parsley
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Buttermilk, flour and spices for breading
  • Half a box of mostaccioli
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • Mozzarella and fresh-grated Parmesan cheeses
  • Salt & pepper
I started by soaking the chicken breasts in buttermilk overnight. The next day, I put together the tomato base and seasoned it for pasta sauce. Basically that means adding oregano, basil, and extra cilantro and parsley before the long simmer.

Next, I fried the chicken breasts in my usual way, and set them aside to drain off excess oil. Then I put on some lightly salted water and brought it to boiling. Now, around here we like our pasta on the firm side, so if it's destined for the oven, I only parboil. That's a fancy way of saying half-cook. I looked at the package directions, which said to cook for 10-12 minutes, and cut that number by about 1/3. Ergo, I let the mostaccioli cook for about 7 minutes before draining.

Now it's time to start the layering. I always start with a little bit of olive oil, to help keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom. I sprinkled the olive oil into a shallow baking dish, and tilted the dish around to distribute. After that I spooned in a thin layer of tomato sauce.

Run your sauce through the blender if you don't like it chunky.

I dumped in the mostaccioli with another sprinkle of olive oil...

Spaghetti and rotini also make good chicken parm.

...and added the remaining sauce. I put the chicken breasts on top of that, and finished with a combination of mozzarella and Parmesan. If I have asiago or Romano cheeses around, I usually throw those on top too. I added a final shake of parsley, and baked it in a 350° oven.

In another 30-45 minutes I had a delicious chicken Parmesan!

Let it cool at least 5 minutes before digging in.

I feel I should apologize for how imprecise my cook times always end up. I'm overly reliant on my nose and eyes, I guess, to tell me when food is done. With baked pasta, I'm looking for two signs. The sauce should have gotten good and thick, and the cheese should be turning a nice brown around the edges. It's that cooked-cheese smell that alerts me when I should go in and have a look.

With an iceberg salad on the side, this makes more than enough for Doug to take a generous portion to work the next day. He has jealous office mates.

I realize, at least in my part of the country, it's already getting too warm to heat up the kitchen for this kind of dinner. But, as always, if anybody tries it, I'd love to hear how you made it your own, and how it turned out, in the comments.

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