Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Food Nanny Valentine's Italian Menu (Option #1)

After a wonderful holiday season with my family, and a nice, long vacation to Utah for a wedding this month, I'm back and getting ready for all of our favorite heartsy fartsy holiday. Valentine's Day is the time of glue, chocolate, red construction paper hearts, chocolate, pink love notes, chocolate, and white doilies that would be heinously tacky at any other time of year.

I'm thrilled for Valentine's Day this year, because I have the privilege to collaborate with Liz Edmunds, television's The Food Nanny! We were introduced several months ago by a mutual friend and decided to make some food magic together. For those of you who aren't yet acquainted with Liz, her food mission centers around family dinner time. In my time studying the family sciences in college, I was completely floored by the research showing the critical importance of this dying ritual. We're talking major physical, social, educational, emotional, and behavioral benefits. Even if you don't have many people at your table, she offers a great system for organizing your meals, and she has some fabulous recipes from her own table as well as from her travels around the world.

Liz has designed TWO simple Valentine's Dinner Menus, one of which will include a new French music playlist which I will be providing. The food will center around recipes from her newest cookbook The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner Again (which I'll be giving away in a later post!) These menus are meant to be classic and easy. The flavors will be both familiar and delicious.

Let's dive in, yes?

The Menu:
Salad: Authentic Italian Basic Salad #1
Main Course: Chicken Parmesan, served straight or over spaghetti (or angel hair) and a quality red sauce
Side Dish: Roasted Winter Vegetables and/or Steamed Broccoli
Dessert: Chocolate Ganache Cake

The Music:
Click on this link to visit the Eats and Beats Music Playlists page where you'll find collections that can be streamed directly from this site! For this menu I recommend:
"Il Viaggio" (all authentic Italian music)
"I Wished For You" (my Valentine's Day playlist)

Notes on this menu: Before adding cheese or sauce, I tried the chicken in just its seasoned, breaded crust and that alone was delicious. So, if you're wanting to cut back on refined carbs or dairy, or you just want something that's less messy, serve it straight with both the Winter vegetables and broccoli. Your plate will be full, classy, and colorful. Winter vegetables, like in the recipe provided in the link, are usually starchy, so you'll have plenty of substance. If you want to stick with the pasta a la Lady and the Tramp, then you'll just have to figure out how many starchy components you want on your plate. Valentine's Day is a holiday, so there's no need to be too strict, right? Especially 'cause you'll be getting Chocolate Ganache Cake for dessert anyway! Also, since the pasta sauce is such a major flavor component of the meal, don't skimp too much on quality. It needs to hold its own. For the steamed broccoli, I just do mine on the stovetop with a little kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. It doesn't need the butter.

For today I'll be giving you the Chicken Parmesan recipe.

I remember one night while waiting tables at a nice Italian restaurant back in college, an older man asked for the spaghetti with meatballs. I almost never had someone order those simpler menu items, but he explained to me that it was his first time at the restaurant, and whenever he's trying a new place, he gets their most basic dishes, because if they put pride in the "plain old" classics, he'd know he could trust them to do all their dishes well. I think Liz's Chicken Parmesan would pass his test with flying colors. I've tried many a Chicken Parmesan, and this recipe will be my go-to from now on!
Chicken Parmesan
by Liz Edmunds, the Food Nanny, with notes from Janna Patterson

Serves 4
Time: 30 minutes or less

Plan Ahead: Prepare the chicken ahead of time and save a few minutes.

1/2 pound spaghetti, cooked
2 teaspoons salt
4 small boneless/skinless chicken breasts, flattened
1 egg, beaten
1 cup homemade bread crumbs using 2 pieces of white sandwich bread
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups homemade marinara or store bought spaghetti sauce, without meat
1/2 cup pasta water, or more
1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, grated
1 Tablespoon fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Boil 5 quarts of water in a large pot. Add 2 teaspoons salt and spaghetti. Cook about 10 min. or until tender. Drain. Set aside. Save 1/2 cup pasta water plus extra if needed.

Wipe off the chicken with a wet paper towel. Use the palm of your hand, flatten the chicken to even thickness or use a mallet and put chicken between two pieces of plastic to flatten to about 1/2 inch thick.

Beat the egg in a shallow dish. Ina food processor or blender process the bread into crumbs. Place in a shallow dish and stir in the Italian seasoning. Dip chicken into egg, then in crumbs to coat.

In a large fry pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Brown the chicken on both sides. Add the spaghetti sauce and 1/2 cup pasta water. Reduce the heat to low; cover and simmer for 10 min. Sprinkle both cheeses on top. Cover and simmer again for 5 min. or until the cheese melts. If Sauce is too thick, add more pasta water. Serve over drained hot spaghetti. 

Janna's Notes: It's imperative that the chicken breasts be small, or else they'll end up too wide when you flatten them. There won't be enough bread crumbs to coat the surface area and there won't be enough room in your pan. Speaking of which, the pan really does need to be large or you might have to cook it in two shifts, using half the pasta water and sauce each time. Also, the recipe calls for spaghetti, a total classic, but if you want something more delicate in your mouth, go for angel hair, and just make sure you cook it according to the box's instructions.

We're all going to forgive my evening-light photography, yes? Yes.

Liz, we are so happy to have you and your food friends at Eats and Beats. Welcome!