Monday, February 27, 2012

Birthday Chicken Parmesan

Yesterday we had Matt's family over for his mom's birthday dinner. Her birthday was actually last week, but this was the first time we were able to get everyone together. His mom's favorite meal is chicken parmesan and we thought that would be a great thing to serve on a Sunday evening, so we decided to create our own version of the traditional Italian dish.

Since I'm a pescatarian and don't eat meat, I made my own mini "chicken" parmesan with a Morningstar Farms chik patty. Super tasty! Other changes included baking the chicken rather than frying it, using part-skim mozzarella cheese, and making our own marinara sauce, both because we think it tastes better than most jar sauces and also so we could control the sugar, salt and oil content. Homemade sauce is so easy to make and really doesn't take that long, so even though we went to the Poconos this weekend, we were still able to whip some up for the Sunday dinner - we just started it first and let it simmer on the stove while we were prepping everything else. We had a lot left over so we froze some to use another time.

A note about tomatoes for the sauce: We've recently become aware of how the food supply chain negatively impacts the environment (for example, shipping tomatoes from Italy to the U.S. consumes a lot of fuel and other forms of energy), so we try to be cognizant of this and choose local foods whenever possible. If we're buying jarred sauce, we try to buy brands that use Jersey tomatoes or that at least make and ship their sauces from New Jersey to minimize the travel distance. When making our own sauce, we try to use homemade canned tomatoes from our garden. Once our own canned tomatoes are gone though, we use Tuttorosso tomatoes; my mom always used them when I was growing up, and we just think they taste better than any other brand - and when you're making something that's basically all tomatoes, it definitely matters!

After some light appetizers, we enjoyed the chicken parm alongside whole string beans tossed with fresh garlic and sea salt, homemade garlic bread and a salad of mixed greens and veggies, gorgonzola cheese and dried cranberries dressed with Ariston balsamic vinegar. We topped it all off with a Baratta family birthday tradition - a Dairy Queen ice cream cake! It was a simple but delicious dinner, and it's always great spending the afternoon with family. :)

Note: We actually don't use recipes for making sauce or chicken parm and just "eyeball" amounts and adjust things as we go. I've done my best to recreate our methods in the recipes below, but feel free to add more or less of the seasonings and things to your own liking.

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Makes approx. 16 cups

3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 large cans (32 oz. each) whole peeled tomatoes
1 large can (32 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 large carrots, peeled and left whole
1 tsp. sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. oregano
1 bunch fresh basil, torn
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. When warm, add the onions and garlic and allow to sweat for 5-7 minutes until translucent and fragrant (do not brown). Add tomato paste and stir; then add all canned tomatoes and stir mixture to fully combine. Add carrots, bay leaf, oregano and salt and pepper; bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for at least one hour. Then add sugar, crushed red pepper and additional salt and pepper if needed. Let simmer for another hour or so (the longer the better, but two hours will work. If you aren't able to simmer for a long time, you may need to add more sugar since the natural sugars in the tomatoes and carrots will have less time to develop). When the sauce is done, turn off the heat and remove the carrots and bay leaf. Add the basil and stir it through.

Serve immediately, or can or freeze it for up to one year.

Nutrition Facts** (1/2 cup):  39 calories; 1.3 grams fat; 6 grams carbs; 1 gram fiber; less than 1 gram protein

Chicken Parmesan

Serves 6

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 breasts, approx. 5 ounces each)
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups Italian bread crumbs
3 cups marinara sauce
12 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (it's best to use a whole block of cheese and grate it fresh, rather than buying it pre-shredded. It melts better and has more flavor).

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the chicken breasts on a large cutting board and cover with plastic wrap. With a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound the chicken out until it is about a half inch thick. Dip each breast in the eggs and then the bread crumbs; shake off excess crumbs and place chicken on a sheet pan sprayed with cooking spray. Bake the chicken approximately 30 minutes or until no longer pink inside. Remove from oven and increase heat to 400 degrees. Place the cooked chicken in a casserole pan and cover with warm marinara sauce, then top with cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted; then increase the oven temperature to broil and cook for 3 minutes more, until cheese is brown and bubbly (do not leave the chicken unattended at this stage, it can burn quickly).

Nutrition Facts** (1 breast with sauce and cheese): 519 calories; 16 grams fat; 22 grams carbs; 3.5 grams fiber; 55 grams protein


  1. Wow! Your chicken parm looks GREAT! That's one of my favorite family meals of all time. YUMM :-)

    1. Thanks! I love your blog by the way! :)