Friday, October 1, 2010

Easy Chicken Parmesan Casserole from Cleo Coyle


I'm kickin' it old school today with a red-sauce favorite: Chicken Parm. This version is an easier (and more healthful) one than your classic breaded and fried version. But first...

Crime-writing cook, Cleo Coyle,
is author of the bestselling

Coffeehouse Mysteries and
Haunted Bookshop Mysteries
Guess what the big culinary news was in New York last week? I'll give you a hint: Four Stars.

An Italian restaurant received four stars from The New York Times. Why big news? Because The Times hasn't given an Italian restaurant four stars since the 1970s.

"Great restaurants may start out that way," wrote the Times' chief restaurant critic (Sam Sifton). "But an extraordinary restaurant generally develops only over time, the product of prolonged artistic risk and managerial attention. An extraordinary restaurant uses the threat of failure first as a spur to improvement, then as a vision of unimaginable calamity. An extraordinary restaurant can transcend the identity of its owners or chef or concept..."

Yes, the man actually used the word "extraordinary" five times in the first two paragraphs. And the restaurant that earned this honor was...Del Posto.

Never been, you say? Well, how 'bout you and I go there right now for a *virtual* dinner? Just click the arrow in the window below. (FYI - I'm ordering the 100-layer lasagna; and, for dessert, the chocolate tree, of course...)




Now you may not have eaten at Del Posto, but odds are you've heard of two of it's three owners: Lidia Bastianich (of the PBS cooking show, Lidia's Italy) and Mario of Food Network fame, who started out in NYC as the chef-owner of a little, bitty restaurant named Po in Greenwich Village, one that I was lucky enough to experience before Mario sold it and moved on to bigger culinary pastures.

The truth is I've never been to Del Posto, and after this review...well, as they say in Italian restaurants located in other parts of NYC: fugettaboutit! (At least right away.) Manhattan's obscenely rich and obnoxiously famous will now be lined up in an endless queue that won't have room for little old me. Do I care? Not in the least. And you shouldn't, either.

The next time you come to NYC, as a tourist or commuter, I have a different restaurant suggestion for you, a less formal but quite good Greenwich Village restaurant Otto.

No dress code at Otto's. Orgasmic Italian food (salumi to die for, artisan pizza, and homemade gelato). Inventive decor. (It's designed to look like an Italian railway station.) The prices are quite reasonable for a night out in New York, and...it's fun. Elegance and pomp are a trip, I grant you, but you just can't beat fun.

So you see, there are always alternatives. Like the recipe I have for you today...

Now Chicken Parmesan is the kind of red-sauce dish a typical New York restaurant snob would call an Italian cliché. But I'll tell you what: People LOVE their clichés, including New Yorkers: egg creams, black-and-whites, Nathan's hot dogs...just three of the dozens I could list for you. And despite all the shiny new, California-style burger joints and up-market shake shacks sprining up all over Manhattan Island, you'd have to nuke the town before most of the population would let you take away their "slices to go."

Of course, Chicken Parmesan is delicious made the old-style way: breading and frying the cutlets, covering them in cheese and sauce and baking. But today I'll give you an alternative to consider--a healthier one because there's no frying involved and instead of all that breading there's just a light layering of crushed garlic croutons.

Many of you may have seen some version of this casserole before (it's really nothing new) but for those who have not, I hope you'll enjoy the way I make it. The tricks to getting it absolutely right (in my opinion) are three:

(1) Use chicken tenders or slice your chicken breasts into strips so that the chicken will cook through (and become so tender as it poaches in the sauce that you can cut it with a spoon).


Start with Caesar salad style
garlic croutons and roughly crush them.
(2) Do not use breadcrumbs (too small). Instead, start with the kind of garlic croutons you would use in a Caesar salad then roughly crush them up (by putting them in a ziplock platic bag and lightly hammering them with a rolling pin or back of a large spoon).

(3) Pre-bake the chicken before adding the cheese. This gives the very best results--beautifully cooked chicken and cheese that's melted to perfection. Otherwise, you'll either have undercooked chicken or cheese that's freakin' burned.

And now...the actual recipe!





Cleo Coyle's 
Easy Chicken Parmesan 
Casserole


🍴

To download this recipe in a free
PDF document that you can print, 






Cleo Coyle's Easy
Chicken Parmesan Casserole

INGREDIENTS:

5-ounce package of garlic croutons

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic (minced)

½ teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper (a light sprinking)

2 pounds chicken tenders (or breasts cut into strips)

5-6 fresh basil leaves (chiffonade)

2 cups of tomato sauce (jarred or your favorite recipe)

2 cups shredded mozzarella

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese


DIRECTIONS:

Step 1 – Prep oven and croutons: Preheat your oven to 350° F. Place garlic croutons in a plastic bag and beat with a meat hammer or heavy object until they’ve been crushed into smaller pieces. Do not beat these babies into breadcrumbs. But do break down any large, chunky pieces into smaller bits. Set aside.

Step 2 – Toss chicken with oil and spices: In a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish, drizzle the olive oil. Add the chicken tenders, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper, and stir well to coat the chicken pieces with the oil and spices. Spread the fresh basil on top of the chicken.



Step 3 – Add sauce and pre-bake: Pour the tomato sauce on top of the chicken, distributing evenly. Slide into a pre-heated 350º F. oven for 30 minutes. Remove. Do not turn off oven!



Step 4 – Add layers of cheese, croutons & cheese: Spread half of the mozzarella and Parmesan evenly over the sauce. Next sprinkle all of the crushed croutons onto the sauce. Finish with a sprinkling of the remainder of the two cheeses.


After pre-baking, layer on half of the cheese...




Now add the crushed croutons....



Finally, add the rest of the cheese...


Step 5 – Final bake: Return the pan to your 350 degree F. oven for another 25 to 30 minutes. Casserole is done when all of the cheese is well melted. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before cutting into squares or spooning onto plates.



Re-heating: This dish makes amazingly tasty leftovers. For the very best result, before reheating, add a bit more sauce and cheese on top. Place in a small casserole dish, cover with a lid or aluminum foil, and reheat in a 350º F. oven for 20 minutes. Or simply place in a microwave-safe dish and zap uncovered until warmed through.






Click here for the
free Recipe PDF, and...




Buon appetitoeveryone!




See more of my recipes in
my Coffeehouse Mysteries
and at my recipe blog...





Eat (and read) with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle


New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.





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