Easy Weekend Cooking: Paul Bertolli’s Poached Chicken with Balsamic Vinegar and Bread Crumb Sauce

poached chicken with Balsamic Sauce

Balsamic Vinegar and Bread Crumb Sauce

The cooking site Food 52 has this great section called “Genius Recipes” which is all about killer cooking tips and essential recipes from classic cookbooks that everyone should try. The Genius Recipes column never fails to provide me with just the bit of inspiration I need when I find myself deep in a cooking rut. Way back when, I suggested Paul Bertolli’s recipe for super minimalist and totally silky cauliflower soup (vegan by the way) from his book “Cooking By Hand” which they featured in their column along with a really great write up. If you are a cauliflower hater (and I know a few) this might just be the recipe to begin changing your mind.

Another absolutely genius recipe from this amazing book that I come back to time and again is his recipe for “Boiled Chicken with Vinegar Sauce” which appears in the chapter devoted entirely to balsamic vinegar (no wonder I love this book!). The name of the dish really doesn’t do it justice. A more compelling description might be “a super comforting, moist chicken with a wonderful toasty, tangy gravy”. You make it by simply poaching a whole chicken, then using a few ladles of the flavorful poaching broth to create a sauce along with toasted sourdough bread crumbs and “young” balsamic vinegar (no need for the super expensive aged stuff, since you want a bit of tang and acidity). It’s just the kind of meal my family is in the mood for on a chilly fall evening after a busy afternoon riding bikes and running around outside. Continue reading

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Emily’s Eggplant Parmesan

Everywhere people are turning off their ovens in favor of cool summery dishes. You might want to consider turning your oven back on for this yummerific eggplant parmesan. My cousin Emily was nice enough to share her recipe which she got from a friend who got it from an aunt who got it from….. This always disappears in nanoseconds at our family gatherings making it a perfect pot luck dish. It’s also a great make-ahead cooking project for the weekend that will get dinner on the table in a jiffy on a busy weeknight.

Since four hands are better than two, I invited my friend Rachel to come over and cook this with me. We made a double batch while catching up and letting the kids exhaust themselves by running circuits of my house. Tired kids and dinner checked off the list is a lovely thing indeed, but not as lovely as the eggplant parm sandwich I had the next morning for breakfast. The sandwich was so dang delicious that I will make sure to bulk up my recipe in the future just to make sure there are sufficient leftovers.

If it happens to be a nice day set up your eggplant breading station outside and enlist the help of your young chefs to dip and shake the eggplant and then layering it all up in the baking dish. It’s a good and messy cooking project which means they’ll love it!

Emily’s Eggplant Parmigiano (makes enough to fill one 8″x8″ baking dish)

Emily says: It’s ALL in the sauce! She’s tried all the fancy and organic tomato products for this recipe, but prefers Hunt’s.

  • 28 oz can Hunt’s Whole Tomatoes
  • 28 ounces of Hunt’s Tomato Sauce
  • 2 Large Cloves of Garlic
  • Dried Basil, Oregano, Crushed Red Pepper to Taste
  • 2 Large Italian Eggplant
  • 1 cup Flour
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 cups Breadcrumbs (Emily prefers her own made from herbed focaccia bread but the stuff from the store works too. I approximated herb focaccia breadcrumbs by blitzing some dried rosemary, olive oil and sea salt in the blender and drizzling the herbed oil over plain homemade breadcrumbs)
  • Vegetable Oil (for baking the eggplant)
  • 3/4 Cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Fresh Mozzarella, Diced
  • Fresh Basil (or basil oil)

Gluten Free Tip: If you want to make this gluten-free, the Gluten-Free Goddess suggests using frozen gluten-free waffles in place of traditional breadcrumbs. Toast them, crunch them up into crumbs and drizzle them with rosemary infused olive oil. You’re good to go GF peeps!

The Sauce (you can make this ahead):

Start with some olive oil and crushed garlic saute until golden. Add the sauce and then the whole tomatoes, which you can crush by hand as you add them into the pot.  Add salt and pepper to taste, a pinch of crushed red chili flake and plenty of dried basil and oregano, sometimes a splash of red wine too. Cook for a few hours, adjust the seasoning and enjoy.

Purge, Bread and Bake the Eggplant (you can do this ahead too):

  • Slice the eggplant about 1/2″ thick. Salt it and stand the slices up in a colander for a few hours to let the juices drain out. Discard the juices and pat the slices dry.
  • Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and place an oiled cookie sheet in the oven to heat up while you do your breading.
  • Set up your breading station: Season the flour with salt, pepper and a few pinches of dried oregano and basil and set it aside in a shallow bowl. Beat the eggs and place in a separate bowl. Place the breadcrumbs in a third bowl. Place a cooling rack on a cookie sheet as the last stop on your breading assembly line.
  • Dip both sides of each slice of eggplant in the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Shake off the excess between each dip and place on the cooking rack until ready to bake.
  • Place your breaded eggplant slices on the hot cookie sheet and drizzle the tops with a little more olive oil. Turn the oven down to 375 and bake 15 minutes. Flip and bake 15 minutes on the other side.

Assemble and Bake

  • Spread a half cup of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Layer the baked eggplant slices, then sauce, then grated parmigiano reggiano. Repeat the layers.
  • Bake in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes or until heated through and bubbly. If baking from the freezer you will need to defrost it completely and add another 15-20 minutes to your bake time.
  • Top with diced fresh mozzarella and torn fresh basil (or basil oil)  just as it comes out of the oven.

Eggplant-Sourdough Polpette

I first got inspired to make these after enjoying the excellent eggplant polpette at Bar Bambino in San Francisco’s Mission District. I wasn’t able to find a recipe, so I just made up my own. This is one of my very favorite “go-to” recipes for parties and potlucks.


Because I often don’t have a lot of time to cook in one sitting, I purge/ roast the eggplant one day and assemble and bake the polpette on another day. These freeze well, so I always make a big batch so that I have some to stash away in the freezer for a quick meal or snack at the ready. I’ve found that kids (well mine at least) will generally eat anything in the shape of a meatball.

Ingredients (makes about 3 dozen small polpette)

  • 3 Medium Italian Eggplant
  • 1/2 Loaf of Good Sourdough Bread (or your favorite rustic loaf)
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 1 Carrot, 1 Zucchini — grated finely and squeezed dry
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmegiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Parsley
  • 1 Cup Bread Crumbs*
  • Olive Oil, Kosher Salt, Pepper

Click on the picture above for more detailed instructions, but here is the method in a nutshell.

  1. Slice and purge the eggplant by sprinkling the cut sides with kosher salt and letting the juices drain out.
  2. Pat dry and roast the eggplant slices on a lightly oiled cookie sheet until tender. Chop and set aside.
  3. Trim the crust from the bread, slice and soak in milk. Squeeze out & discard the liquid and crumble into a bowl. Add the chopped eggplant, egg, carrot, zucchini, parmegiano reggiano, parsley, and a dash of salt and peper. Mix well.
  4. Form into balls. Roll each ball in breadcrumbs. Bake on a lightly oiled cookie sheet at 375 until crispy and golden.

Serve as is, simmered in tomato sauce, on a sandwich — or any other way you like to eat meatballs!

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* Homemade Bread Crumbs *

It’s easy to make your own bread crumbs and they are soooooooo much better than store bought. Just toss your stale bread, crusts in a freezer-safe container. When you have saved up a bunch, lay your bread trimmings on an ungreased cookie sheet. Toast at 350 until dry and crisped (15-20 minutes). You can flavor them up if you like with herb and spices of your choice. I often add a handful of sesame seeds or golden flax seed. Process everything in a food processor until you have the texture of coarse sand. If you find your bread crumbs are not dry and sandy, return them to the baking sheet and toast them a bit more. Store in an airtight container in the freezer.