Master the art of making skinny faves
The last time we went to an Italian restaurant I ordered something parmigiana. It might have been chicken or maybe eggplant, but I can’t remember which. All I can recall is the gummy texture of fried breading that seemed thicker than the slice of main ingredient inside. Of course the tomato sauce was luxurious and the melted mozzarella a delicious mess, but the grainy coating seemed to detract from the dish.
I can understand some of the reasons to start with seasoned breadcrumbs: Chicken is relatively bland, and eggplant would otherwise disintegrate in the tomato sauce. Hence the technique of dipping a slice first into an egg wash, then breadcrumbs, followed by a shallow fry in oil. What if there was another way to deliver a tasty result without the breading and frying? The chicken would need a flavor boost, and the eggplant would need some structure.
Before making the reconstructed chicken parmigiana in the photo, I tried to understand the source of the dish’s name. Although eggplant parmigiana originated in southern Italy, the word translates as “from Parma” (a northern city). One speculation relates to the appearance of the overlapping layers of eggplant slices resembling shutters or palmigiana. Some claim the dish is named for the cheese used in its preparation (known in English as Parmesan), but it’s not always an ingredient. No matter which legend you choose, if you include Parmesan cheese, make sure it’s freshly grated.
For a lighter eggplant parmigiana, the slices are salted and drained in a colander before a quick rinse and a brief sauté. The slightly cooked slices are arranged like the slats in a shutter and topped with tomato sauce and cheese. Some people prefer to peel the eggplant so the skin doesn’t become a chewy loop in your mouth, and I’ve had success skipping the sautéing step completely.
In another eggplant recipe, I baked the slices after coating them with olive oil spray. Once they were softened, they were transformed into a healthy rollatini. Typically, the eggplant strips are breaded and fried, a step we’ve replaced with roasting. The filling here is a combination of wilted spinach and cannellini bean puree. For a richer dish, you can substitute ricotta cheese seasoned as you would for lasagna. The recipe doesn’t call for any added salt because several of the ingredients are already salty enough.
My approach to replace the chicken breading with flavor was to use an Italian seasoning mixture. You can find this as a prepackaged mix in the grocery spice aisle; avoid any that include salt as an ingredient. You can also create your own by combining equal amounts of oregano, marjoram, basil, rosemary and thyme. Coat the chicken pieces and briefly sauté in olive oil to maximize their flavor impact.
In order to manage the baking time, make sure the chicken pieces are all about the same size. You can do this by sectioning the boneless, skinless chicken breast into smaller pieces and then pounding them to about three-eighths of an inch thick. Arrange the chicken in a baking pan, cover with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese (use part-skim to keep the calories down). In about 30 minutes you’ll enjoy a skinnier chicken parmigiana and you’ll never notice the missing breadcrumbs.
3 C tomato sauce
2 C shredded mozzarella
1 C grated Parmesan cheese
Peel the eggplant and slice crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Place a few slices of eggplant in the bottom of a colander and sprinkle with salt. Continue to layer the eggplant and salt. Set the colander to drain for at least 30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant slices and dry thoroughly on paper towels; set aside. Coat a skillet with nonstick cooking spray and sauté the eggplant slices in a single layer until lightly browned on each side, about 1 or 2 minutes per side. Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Coat a 10-by-8-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place about a third of the eggplant slices in the pan, overlapping them slightly. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the slices. Sprinkle with 1 C of the mozzarella and 1/3 C of Parmesan. Repeat the eggplant layer and both cheeses; finish with the last third of eggplant slices, tomato sauce and Parmesan. Bake until lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting.
1 C tomato sauce
1 large eggplant
kosher salt, to taste
8 oz baby spinach, chopped
10-oz can cannellini beans
1 garlic clove
1 t basil
1 T chopped parsley
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread half the tomato sauce in the bottom of a baking pan; set aside. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil; coat with olive oil cooking spray. Slice the eggplants lengthwise, about 3/8 inch thick. Place the eggplant slices on the baking sheet in a single layer.
Coat the tops of the slices lightly with the olive oil spray and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the slices over and cook an additional 15 minutes. Wilt the spinach in a nonstick skillet over low heat (or in the microwave); drain thoroughly and set aside. Rinse and drain the beans; combine in the bowl of a food processor with garlic, basil and parsley. Pulse bean mixture into a thick puree.
When the eggplant is cooked, prepare the rolls as follows: spread one half of each slice with a layer of bean puree, then spinach and finally Parmesan. Begin rolling from the filled end and place in the pan with tomato sauce, seam side down. Top with remaining sauce and Parmesan cheese.
Bake until cheese starts to brown, about 25 minutes. Yield: 4 side-dish servings.
Skinny Chicken Parmigiana
1 lb boneless chicken breasts
1 T Italian seasoning blend
1 T olive oil
1 1/2 C tomato sauce
1 C shredded skim milk mozzarella
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat the inside of a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Cut the chicken into 4 to 6 pieces and pound into a uniform thickness (about 3/8 inch thick). Coat the chicken with the seasonings, pressing the herbs to adhere.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the chicken. Cook over medium until meat is starting to brown; turn and cook the other side.
Remove chicken to the baking pan and arrange in a single layer. Pour the tomato sauce over the chicken until coated completely and sprinkle evenly with both cheeses. Bake until cheese has melted and is starting to brown, about 30 minutes. Yield: 4 main course servings.