Friday Recipe

There are a few classic dishes I’ve never made, because they’re just too easy to find at restaurants. The problem with living in Colorado Springs is finding real Italian – you know, a place where you can order a chicken parmigiana and get something better than a dried-out chicken breast covered in canned marinara and low-fat mozzarella. So last week I learned how to make…

A Damn Fine Chicken Parmigiana

Tyler Florence did this one on Food TV a while back, but I changed it up some. Also, I’ve made the directions a little more explicit, for people like me who don’t manage kitchen time very well.

You’ll need:

2 skinless chicken breasts
Extra virgin olive oil (we almost never measure our olive oil, so just do like us and keep a gallon tin on hand at all times)
2 cloves of garlic, minced or smashed
1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 bunch of basil leaves, chopped or torn
A white onion, chopped
1 large can (28 oz) of whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon Chianti
1/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 cup plain breadcrumbs (the stuff in the cardboard can is fine)
1 large ball of fresh mozzarella, or 2 small ones (call it 1/4 pound or so)
A wedge of Parmigianino Reggiano (the undisputed King of Cheeses)
6 oz spaghetti

This first step will make your whole house smell like you’ve been cooking something wonderful all day, but it only takes five minutes. Coat the bottom of a small saucepan with olive oil and bring it up to medium heat. While it’s coming up to temp, roll up your sleeves and hand-crush the tomatoes in a colander. Give’em a good rinse, and leave them be. Now that the oil is hot, drop in the bay leaf, onion, and garlic. Stir for four minutes or so, then add the tomatoes.

Reduce to medium-low heat and let the sauce simmer for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally (and tasting often). Pour the Chianti in there, too, and season with salt and pepper.

Get the oven preheating to 450, and cover the sauce on low heat. Or on no heat, if you’re moving slowly through these steps. You can always bring it back to a simmer later.

Take out two plates and a small bowl. Cover one plate with the flour, and season it thoroughly with salt and pepper. Put the egg in the bowl and whip it lightly. Next to that, cover the second plate with your breadcrumbs.

Now comes the fun part: Abusing dead animals!

Place the chicken breasts between two sheets of wax paper, and pound the little bastards until they’re 1/3-inch thick. And here’s a tip learned the hard way: Put the smooth side of the chicken facing up and use the smooth side of the mallet. Much less messy that way.

Put a large pot full of water on the stove to boil.

Place the chicken breasts next to the plate of flour, next to bowl of egg, next to the plate of bread crumbs, next to the stovetop. On the stovetop, take your best 8-inch, oven-safe skillet and bring 2 more tablespoons of olive oil up to medium heat.

Roll up your sleeves if you haven’t already, and remove your watch and rings, too. Take the first chicken breast and lightly coat it in the flour. Dip it in the egg and let the excess drip off. Take the mess you’ve made and cover it in breadcrumbs. Throw it in the skillet and repeat with the second chicken breast. Fry them for no more than 3.5 minutes on each side. Remove from heat, but otherwise leave it be.

Here’s where we find out if your skillet really is oven-safe.

Ladle the simmering sauce (very, very generously) on top of the chicken, right there in the pan. Tear the mozzarella and portion it out on top of the sauce. Now take your parm-reg and your best grater, and cover – and I mean cover – the whole mess with parm. If you use less than three ounces, you don’t get any wine with dinner.

Put the pan in the oven and bake it at 450 for 10-12 minutes. If you keep an eye on the cheese, you’ll know when it’s done. As soon as the chicken is in the oven, add the spaghetti to the boiling water, along with a pinch of salt.

Strain the pasta after about nine minutes, by which time the chicken is almost ready to go.

Here’s the really tough part. Do you serve the pasta on the chicken, under the chicken, or with a little olive oil next to the chicken? The choice is yours.

Oh, and that Chianti you opened just to get a tablespoon? Pour a glass, have a sip, and serve dinner already.

Serves two people who love their cheese, but hate dried-out chicken.