The vernal equinox has arrived, so we may officially welcome spring! The snowbank in the lee of our house is finally shrinking and the clump of snowdrops in front is bobbing its blossoms in the sunshine. It may be a bit early to think of bringing out the grill. However, it is not too early to think of an updated version of old favorites, some with a new twist in ingredients.
Veal Parmigiana is a classic Mediterranean recipe served in many Italian restaurants with great acclaim. This dish, made with tender thin veal in breaded crust of breadcrumbs and cheese, used to be my husband’s favorite restaurant meal in Italy. Until, we encountered it as a ‘schnitzel’ at a famous restaurant in Vienna. It was amazing! Our waiter presented two plates and the thin delectable meat with delicate crust covered the entire plate. Good recipes often change names and know no national boundaries!
This has led me to vary the Parmigiana recipe on a number occasions, sometimes to be made with pork or sometimes with chicken. In deference to spring, here is my current version made not with breadcrumbs, but with panko.
Veal and pork cutlets used in this dish require pounding to a 1/4-inch thickness before breading. Most chicken breasts in the store these days are very large and can be cut in 1/2-inch thickness to be used directly in the recipe.
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Cut 1/2-inch thick slices from a skinless large chicken breast lengthwise. (Usually you will have two large and two smaller cutlets.) Season chicken with salt and pepper.
3. Arrange one plate with flour, a shallow soup plate with one egg beaten with 1 tbsp water, and one plate with 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs mixed with 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.
4. Dredge each chicken cutlet in flour on both sides, shaking off excess, then dip both sides in egg and finally thoroughly dredge with the breadcrumbs, again shaking off excess.
5. Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat and fry 2 cutlets at a time, no more than 2 minutes to a side. Remove to a sheet pan and cook the remaining cutlets. Arrange cutlets on the pan by topping each with a folded slice of provolone cheese and spoon a couple of tbsp spaghetti sauce crosswise on the cheese.
6. Bake in the oven 8-10 minutes until the cheese melts and the sauce is hot.
7. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with cooked pasta and a salad. Any leftovers can be reheated in the microwave for a delicious lunch.
A complementary dish with Mediterranean flavor to meat or poultry is strata, a layered casserole made with stale or toasted bread soaked in milk and eggs. While it is often used as a breakfast casserole, which is assembled the night before and baked in the morning, strata serves equally well as a side dish for a main meal and can include some vegetables and even diced meat. This strata would also pair well with an Easter ham and asparagus in a few weeks.
Artichoke and sundried tomato strata
1. Cut a baguette or country style bread in 3/4-inch pieces and lightly toast in a 350 degree oven to dry for 10 minutes. You should have 3-4 cups of cubes.
2. Drain from oil and cut in strips 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes.
3. Thaw a 9 oz package of frozen artichoke hearts and cut in half. In a skillet heat 1 tbsp olive oil, add the artichokes, 2 chopped garlic cloves and cook 3 minutes.
4. In a large bowl beat 4 eggs with 1 3/4 cups milk, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, and 6 oz spreadable cream cheese with chives.
5. Combine the bread, artichokes, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, and the sundried tomatoes with the beaten egg-milk mixture. Cover and allow to blend for about 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
6. Transfer the bread mix to an 8-by-8 baking dish coated with a baking spray and sprinkle with 3 oz shredded Gruyere cheese.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes until the top is browned and the strata is set. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before cutting in squares to serve.
As we advance into spring, our dressed-up chicken will likely acquire new lighter attire, but in the meantime quick delicious meals are to be appreciated.
(I. Winicov Harrington, of Waldoboro, is the author of “How to Eat Healthy and Well for Less Than $5.00 a Day: The Smart-Frugal Food Plan.” For more information, go to winicov-harrington.com.)