Comfort Food Cravings: Nonni’s Quick Chicken Parm

Chicken Parm

Yeah, Chicken Parm!

Cooking withnonni

Nonni Laura in the Kitchen

In my last blog post, I introduced you to the one and only Nonni Laura who showed you (via this video) how to make a humongous pot of minestrone, Italian grandma-style. Yum yum!

I wanted to share another of our very favorite Nonni recipes: this time ooey, gooey chicken parmesan, a true Italian-American classic…. and a meal near the top of my kids’ all time “most requested” list. It’s pretty hard not to love that magical combination of rich tomato sauce, melty cheese, herbed breadcrumbs and juicy chicken.

This particular version of chicken parmesan is mostly Nonni’s recipe, but with a few added tweaks and shortcuts by me to make it a bit more doable for busy weeknights.   [The recipe recently appeared in the “Fast and Furious Weeknight Cooking” column for the San Jose Mercury News.]

Hope you’ll give it a try…BTW the leftovers make killer sandwiches!

Get the recipe for Nonni’s Quick Chicken Parm.

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Nonni hugs are the best!


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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.

A Food Hug: Tomato Soup

Summer in San Francisco means lots of fog, but it still means lots of tomatoes. We snap up early girl tomatoes at the beginning of the season and grab cheap boxes of “ugly” tomatoes at the farmers’ market at the end of the season in late September/October. After a bumper backyard crop last year, Luca and I made a go at growing our our own again this summer, but the unusually cool summer has taken its toll.  [BTW: for you gardeners, it’s too late to plant this year, here’s a great guide from Love Apple Farm on growing tomatoes for your future reference.]

Seems like tomatoes show up on our table just about everyday during their season. We love them in salads, sandwiches and sauces. We stock our freezer with homemade conserva di pomodoro (tomato paste) and  the ultimate simple sauce Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion. If you haven’t tried this recipe, you must. Using fresh or canned tomatoes, it’s great as is — especially on gnocchi. And because it’s so simple you can use it as a flavorful base for other pasta sauces. [I usually use a little less butter and rough chop fresh tomatoes, removing the seeds and skin by passing the sauce through a food mill after it’s cooked. My husband and son prefer a less chunky sauce which is another reason I like the food mill. Using fresh tomatoes will require more cooking time because of the higher water content].

We also make sure to cook up as many batches of  tomato soup as we can. It’s become a summertime tradition. For my family, it’s the perfect comfort food especially with a grilled cheese sandwich — and it puts a smile on our faces on even the foggiest summer day. I shared some with a friend recently, and she served it cold, sort of gazpacho-like, which is an interesting idea.

Classic Tomato Soup

This is a hybrid of various recipes we’ve tried over the years. We like the combination of roasted and fresh tomatoes. It’s very tomato-y and the brandy gives it a nice boost.

  1. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Slice 2 pounds of tomatoes and lay them on the cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt and a little sugar, then drizzle with olive oil. Roast in a 375 oven for 30 minutes or until the tomatoes are a bit wrinkled and the much of their moisture has cooked out. Set aside.
  2. Saute 1-2 large shallots in butter in a large pot, then add a small pinch of ground allspice.
  3. Add 2 pounds of sliced (uncooked) tomatoes to the shallots, then add the roasted tomatoes, and enough chicken of vegetable stock to cover (about 6 cups).
  4. Simmer on low for an hour or so.
  5. Put the soup through a fine setting on a food mill, which will strain out the skins. You could use a blender, too.
  6. Return to the stove and taste for seasoning, adding salt or pepper to taste. Swirl in a TBL or sherry and 1/4 cup of half and half or cream.