I was famished after a gym workout this week, and decided to grab a bite to eat on my way home. Cruising through the drive-through lane at Taco Bell, I placed my order for a taco. The voice on the intercom sounded confused, so I repeated my order again, louder and with more clarity. And that is when I actually looked at the menu and realized…. I was in line at Starbucks.
One of my Facebook friends quipped, “So did you ask them to make you a Taco Frappucino?”
Granted, there is nothing appealing about the thought of a Taco Frappucino, but you’d be surprised at how many of my favorite recipes are created because of accidents. Or because I am hungry for a particular something, but out of an ingredient or two, so try to make due with substitutes. Time and again, the substitute often proves to be an improvement on the original recipe.
Such is the case with today’s recipe. Typically, when I make Chicken Parmesan, I use thin cutlets. What I had on hand was a couple of monster size breasts (Yes, my husband could not keep himself from making a few jokes about that) and I was in too much of a hurry to pound them thin.
Secondly, I often dip the cutlets in egg whites and grated garlic before rolling in Panko crumbs and Parmesan. Alas, nary an egg or a clove of garlic anywhere in the house.
That is when I spied a large jar of pesto that I’d purchased at Sam’s Club (it is surprisingly tasty, some of the best purchased pesto I’ve tried). One thing led to another and I ended up covering the breasts with pesto, then rolling them in Panko and grated Parmesan cheese. What we ended up with, eventually, was the best Chicken Parm I’ve ever made. In fact, it was the best Chicken Parmagiano I’ve ever eaten. The chicken inside stayed incredibly tender and when you cut through it, you could see the pretty layer of green pesto, golden Panko, red marinara and white cheese. Now that’s amore.
Pesto Parmesan Chicken
Serves 2 people (with big appetites)
2 large boneless chicken breasts
Salt & Pepper (to taste, to sprinkle lightly on chicken)
2 cups marinara sauce (your favorite bottled brand or homemade)
¼ cup fresh or grated mozzarella
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T. butter
1/2 cup Pesto
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Heat Oven to 400 degrees
Heat the marina in a saucepan until hot.
Put olive oil and butter in a large oven proof skillet and heat to medium high.
Rinse and pat boneless chicken breasts dry. Sprinkle both sides lightly with salt and pepper. Put pesto in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl mix Panko and ½ c. Parmesan cheese. Lay chicken breasts, one at a time, into pesto first, coating both sides of breast and edges thoroughly, and then in Panko-Parm mixture, coating both sides and edges of breasts thoroughly again.
Saute the breasts on both sides until the coating is crispy and golden. You may have to add a little more oil depending on size of breasts and your pan. (Drain off excess oil, if there is a lot of it, before putting in oven.)
Then put the entire skillet into the oven and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and ladle each breast with ¼ cup marinara, 2 T. mozzarella and 2 T. Parmesan cheese. Place back in the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes or until cheese is melted and chicken breast is cooked but not overly so. (A meat thermometer is helpful here, but if you don’t have one, just cut through the middle of one of the breasts to check for doneness.)
Variation: Use thinner chicken breasts or pound smaller chicken breasts thin. Put sauce and cheese on immediately after pan frying, and cook in oven only until cheese melts.
Vegetarian or Vegan Variation: Use a vegan chicken patty (such as Gardien brand frozen chick’n scallopini), tofu, tempeh or seitan instead of chicken breasts. Use or make a vegan pesto (omit the parm cheese in most pesto recipes). The cooking time in the oven following pan-frying may not be needed at all, or just cook for a few minutes with tomato sauce and cheese. Vegans can serve without cheese, or use vegan versions of mozzarella and Parm on top.
(Becky, the Mama.)
Yesterday I went on a wild cooking spree, working as I do, at top speed, to get several dishes prepared. Then once the kitchen looked like it had been ransacked by a herd of goats with ADD, I started in to clean it. When I load the dishwasher, I know that my husband is pulled in two emotional directions. On the one hand, he is glad that I’m the one loading it so he doesn’t have to. On the other hand, he is nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, knowing that I will take a lot of creative license in my loading technique. He is the one who first said, “Becky, you load a dishwasher just like a drunk monkey.”
In this case, a picture may be worth a paragraph of words:
Greg is my daughter’s stepdad, but in organization and cleanliness, you’d swear they were related by blood. So, for fun, I sent the picture above to Rachel, and within minutes she sent me this side-by-side comparison:
People ask, “Do your dishes get clean when you load them this way?” And I say, “Not all of them. But, miraculously, about 90 percent of them DO!” I can deal with the other 10 percent later, when I hurriedly run them through the dishwasher again.
Though the kitchen was a disaster for awhile, I did produce several mouth-watering dishes. (Some to be shared in later posts.) The first dish I made was born from a love of the flavors in pesto, but discouragement with the pesto calories. I wondered what it would taste like to fuse all the ingredients in classic pesto with ricotta cheese, cutting out the olive oil. Part skim ricotta has a generous amount of protein while low in calories. I LOVED the results. Light, lemony and creamy with the crunch of walnuts, the zip of basil and garlic. With the addition of a little Greek Yogurt it made a wonderful dip for veggies and topping for crostinis. (Small slices of French bread, toasted, usually with olive oil.)
Then I wondered how this “pesto ricotta” would taste with broiled eggplant, in layers, with a marinara sauce? I could have eaten the entire pan full of it, but my 22 year old nephew Jordan – who is living with us now, and had never had eggplant before in his life – beat me to it! He gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up. It’s an easy, tender, healthy and vegetarian dish, loaded with flavor, that I will definitely be making again. I bet the pesto ricotta would also be amazing on hot pasta with roasted veggies, maybe some sliced vegan or Italian sausage…..
16 oz. Part Skim Ricotta Cheese (Vegans can sub Tofutti or mashed drained, white beans. If you use it to make the eggplant dish, mashed cooked white potatoes would also be great.)
Juice of one lemon, plus all of its zest
½ c. walnuts
Big handful of basil
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Vegans omit or sub with Vegan Parm cheese)
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients into a food processor and process until walnuts are chopped fine and rest of ingredients are well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Ricotta Pesto Topping for Veggies and Crostini
Use the recipe above, but add 2 T. plain Greek yogurt. Stir and serve with crisp veggies and crostinis
Ricotta Pesto Eggplant “Lasagne”
Recipe of Ricotta Pesto Above
2 Eggplants, peeled and sliced ¼ inch rounds
Approximately ¼ cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper
3 cups marina, your favorite brand or homemade (I whirl 28 oz can crushed tomatoes in a blender with garlic, 1/4 onion, handfull of basil, dash red wine, 1 t. oregano, 1 T. brown sugar, 1 t. salt — simmer a few minutes and call it marinara.)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (more if you like)
Heat oven to Broil. Place eggplant slices in a single layer on a large cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil, season very lightly with salt and pepper.
Broil about 4 inches from heat, keeping a close eye on the eggplant. As soon as it begins to turn golden in places, take the cookie sheet out of the oven, carefully turn over the eggplant with a flat spatula, brush with more olive oil and salt and pepper. Broil this side, too, until slightly golden and eggplant is pliable and soft. Take out of oven, let cool a bit.
Change oven temp to 350 degrees for baking.
Grease a square pan or round pan with a little olive oil. Place one layer of eggplant in pan. (Using 1/3 of the eggplant slices.) Top with ½ the ricotta mixture. Top with 1 cup marinara sauce. Layer again with eggplant, ricotta, and marinara in the same portions. Top with layer of eggplant and final cup of marinara.
Top with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes until dish begins to bubble and Parm is golden brown. Let sit for 10- 15 minutes before cutting in slices to serve.
This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
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The Title: Pesto Ricotta & Eggplant”Lasagne”
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