When it comes to Italian food, is there anything quite as beloved as chicken (or veal, or eggplant) parmigiana?
My favorite story of parm-love is something is also one of my favorite Silly Celebrity Tidbits. Jennifer Lopez was in Italy and was being interviewed by Italian journalists. She told them how much she loved Italian food. They asked her what her favorite dish was. She said chicken parmigiana.
The journalists asked her what that was.
When she told them, they were kind of grossed out.
The published interview stated that Ms. Lopez's favorite food was a chicken dish regularly eaten in the Bronx (the assumption was that she's from the Bronx, so it must be a Bronx related dish).
So I guess chicken parmigiana is not exactly Italian, although it uses some common Italian ingredients. Let's face it, in Italy they tend to go for lighter, simpler fare. Chicken parmigiana would be quite overwhelming to folks in Italy where they would likely be having their cheese, their breaded chicken, and their marinara-dressed pasta as separate courses and not thrown together on one plate.
On the other hand, here in the US, it is a much beloved Italian-American favorite. It is a humble dish,served over pasta in every "red sauce joint" or thrown on a wedge* in pizza places and delis. If not strictly Italian, it was certainly inspired by the food of Italy and introduced and distributed by Italian-Americans. It may be an overloaded plate for Italians, but Americans love the many layers of flavors and textures: crispy cutlets, warm spicy, drippy sauce, and gooey cheese all sinking into a plate of pasta or onto hearty bread.
It's not something I make much myself due to the cheese factor, but lately I've been noticing Sir Pickypants ordering it often in our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant. He asks me why I never make it.
I'll never really get my husband's relationship with cheese. He'll act like it's the most revolting thing in the world one minute, then eagerly eat ravioli with a Lactaid the next. It doesn't just seem to be about lactose intolerance, but I'm not sure what it's about.
I have come to the conclusion that if I want my husband to eat cheese, at least two of the three conditions below must occur:
1. The cheese must be white cheese. When I say white, I mean white. White cheddar is not white. Ricotta is white. Mozzarella is white.
2. The cheese must be served warm. Caprese salad will never be touched, but put that mozzarella on a pizza, and the Lactaid pills will come out.
3. The cheese must be mild. Any hint of scent or sharpness will result in non-consumption of said cheese.
Of course, even if all three of these conditions are met, there is no guarantee he'll eat the cheese. For example, the cotija often sprinkled on enchiladas is white, bland, and warm, but if the chef in the Mexican restaurants neglects his request to leave it off, he'll still pick it off.
Melted mozzarella is safe though, and seemingly enjoyed, so last night I decided to do us a chicken "parm".
I tried to lighten it up a bit. I used a homemade marinara that I made from fresh tomatoes purchased this weekend at the farmer's market (using this recipe). The coating was made from almond flour instead of bread crumbs. I served it over a small pool of polenta. The mozzarella was just regular mozzarella.
A word about the cheese. Foodies always hold this belief that fresh, wet mozzarella is the only way to ever eat it. Any mozzarella that doesn't drip profusely is worthless.
The problem with using super-fresh cheese is that it's crap for melting. Put it on your pizza and you're guaranteed soggy results. The Italian specialty store in my neighborhood makes the most delicious mozzarella ever, but if you go in there and try to buy the stuff that was just pulled that morning, they will ask you if you plan to eat it as is or cook with it. If you tell them you want to melt it, you will be directed to the refrigerator case for a more aged version. You don't have to buy a block of shrink-wrapped Polly-O, but don't spend your money on hotty-totty fresh cheese if you're planning to make my recipe.
Short (dis)Order Cook's Chicken Parmigiana
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper
Flour or potato starch for dredging
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk
1 cup almond flour
2 cups good marinara (How Ina Garten of me to say that!)
1/2 pound mozzarella, sliced
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place flour, salt, and pepper in one dish, the egg in another, and the almond flour in another. Dip chicken in flour, then in egg, then in almonds until evenly coated.
Heat butter and olive oil in a pan. Cook chicken breasts about 5 minutes per side until golden.
Pour tomato sauce over the chicken and place pan in the oven for 10 minutes.
Set oven to broil and place slices of the cheese over the chicken. Broil 5 minutes or until cheese is well melted and gooey and a tad brown (if you like it that way).
Serve over pasta or polenta or on a wedge of bread.
*Yes, a wedge. It's a wedge. It's not a sub, hoagie, hero or grinder. It's a wedge. Even if you spell it s-u-b, it's pronounced "wedge". That's how we roll in my neck of the woods.