This post was originally written a couple of weeks ago, and I haven’t had time to post it until now. I hope you all still enjoy 🙂
It’s sad to say, but I’m now approaching my last full week here in Oswego. There are so many things I could be doing right now–a final paper, my undergraduate thesis, packing, cooking a delicious soup–but instead, I am here on my couch enjoying a cooking show. In Take Home Chef, the charismatic Curtis (who is a super hot, surf-skinned Aussie, by the way) approaches people (women) in the supermarket and offers to go home with them to cook their dinner. Most of these women have husbands and children to cook for, along with picky preferences and sometimes limited cooking space. Maybe it’s because everyone sits around the table making yummy noises, or maybe it’s because everyone on the show shares a laugh over food, but watching Curtis and his happy clients reminds me of the many meals my friends and I have shared in the past year.
Every week, my partner and I get together with two of our close friends for a meal. We alternate the “duty” of cooking each week (for money and stress purposes), and most recently, it was our turn. It seems pretty safe to say that when we think large groups of people eating lots of food, we think: Italian. Images of happy, wine-guzzling, tomato-encrusted men and women elbow-to-elbow around dishes of pastas and delicious meat dishes often come to mind. And while these images may be unfounded and a common stereotype for sure, the connection is made nonetheless, and so….Italian. As college students, though, we must get creative. Last Friday, I wanted lasagna. But I didn’t have time to make a lasagna–and I’m not a huge fan of the ricotta cheese. And I wanted to include chicken. So, with a little bit of imagination and only about an hour’s worth of cooking, I had a new invention: parma-ziti-sagna.
The dish is easy enough conceptually, if you can get the timing done right: you bread and fry the chicken as if to make chicken parmesan, and in the meantime, you layer pasta with sauce, cheese, and herbs and bake it in the oven. Then, you combine them and let them finish baking together! The result is a piping hot, melty, gooey combination of stiff on the outside, soft on the inside noodles, chunky-sweet tomato sauce, and crispy-salty breaded chicken breast. What’s great about this recipe is that it makes “4 huge servings plus leftovers” – the only way I can quantify how much food really results from the recipe.
1 lb. penne pasta
24 oz. spaghetti sauce
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
2 large chicken breasts (approx. 1.25 lbs.)
1/2 c. flour
1 tbsp. water
1 c. Italian bread crumbs (panko can work too but it absorbs a lot of water)
oil for frying
12 oz. mozzarella cheese
4 oz. parmesan cheese
salt & pepper
-Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
-Soak penne for 15 minutes in unsalted water.
-While penne soaks, cut chicken breasts lengthwise through the flat part of the breast rather than down the middle (laterally rather than vertically). This will give you a big, flat chicken breast! Perfect for frying.
-Dredge (roll around and cover in) flour, then a mixture of your egg and water. Finally, dredge in the bread crumbs.
-Throw your penne in a large saucepan of boiling water to boil for 5-6 minutes. Tip: You want the pasta to be al dente so that it can cook in the oven without getting too stiff.
-Take a 9×11 baking pan and layer half the sauce in the bottom (approx. 12 oz.) and half of the tomatoes (approx. 14 oz.).
-After the pasta has cooked, layer in all the pasta after drained, and top with the parmesan and half the mozzarella cheese. I suggest cutting the mozzarella in thick slices (approx. 1/4 inch thick) and layering that way.
-Bake the pan in the oven for 10-15 minutes.
-Meanwhile, place about an inch of oil in a large pan and get hot by placing on a high setting. You’ll know the oil is ready if it begins to “simmer” – little bubbles will appear throughout, and it will look sort of like the oil is boiling. Tip: You can also wet your hand in the sink and splash the oil gently. If it pops and sizzles loudly, the oil is ready for frying. Tip: If your oil is not hot enough, the chicken breading will simply soak up the oil and will have to be cooked very dark in order to cook the meat all the way through. You don’t want to be forced to burn your breading just to get cooked chicken!
-Remove pan from oven and layer the fried and paper-towel-drained chicken breasts on top. Cover the whole dish with the remaining sauce, tomatoes, and the rest of the cheese. Tip: Put a slice of the mozzarella on each slice of chicken. Delicious!
-Bake an additional 10 minutes. Tip: Don’t cover your dish with aluminum foil like you would a lasagna. Because this dish only bakes for about 30 minutes, the cheese won’t burn and doesn’t require the aluminum foil. I don’t know for sure if it would be negative to put it on, but it’s not necessary. Save your foil!
-Remove from the oven and, well, do your best to serve. I suggest giving each person a serving of chicken and scooping pasta, sauce, and cheese from the bottom.
I know this is something that anyone who loves chicken parmesan, lasagna, or ziti would like. There are so many ways to mix things up, too! My suggestions: layer in additional mozzarella cheese or some fontina/ricotta; add veggies like mushrooms, eggplant, or zucchini; use a meat sauce instead of regular spaghetti sauce. The possibilities are endless!