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Chicken Parmesan

Serves 4

As a substitute for the traditional, calorie-laden, melted cheese topping, a spoonful of low-fat ricotta cheese adds creamy mouth-feel to this dish, with far less calories. (Don’t try non-fat ricotta – it tastes bad.) 1 pound chicken tenders may be substituted for chicken breasts.

  • TIP: Zucchini sliced thin on an inexpensive Benriner slicer makes a low-fat, low-calorie substitute for pasta.
  • TIP: A tip for cooking vegetables (for tomato sauce) in a very small amount of fat: if the vegetables begin to brown, add a couple of teaspoons of water to the pan and keep cooking.
  • TIP: This recipe uses a minimum of Parmesan cheese in the breading, and very little oil for sautéing, so that you can add a little extra of both on top of the finished dish – where you can taste it quite directly – for an additional kick of bright flavor

Ingredients

  • Tomato Sauce and Zucchini Pappardelle
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided (this can easily be cut to 4 teaspoons)
    • 1/4 red onion, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
    • 3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
    • Salt
    • 1 (28-ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, in juice, mashed in a bowl with your hands, or pulsed in a food processor
    • 1 sprig fresh basil
    • Pepper
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
    • 4 zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed at both ends
  • Chicken
    • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus 2 tablespoons (can be cut to 4 teaspoons) extra, for serving
    • 1/4 cup dried whole wheat or regular breadcrumbs
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
    • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten with a fork
    • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, split in half to make 6 to 8 large, thin cutlets
    • Pepper
    • 4 teaspoons olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons extra for serving
    • 1/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

Method

  1. For the sauce, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the vegetables and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Cover, reduce heat to very low and cook until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. (Check a few times during cooking; if vegetables begin to brown, add 2 teaspoons water and stir.) Add the tomatoes, basil, and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer gently 5 minute. Then uncover and simmer very gently until thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
  2. Meanwhile, using a mandolin or Benriner, slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick pappardelle-like strips, turning the zucchini and slicing on 4 sides only until you see the center seeds. Discard the centers. 
  3. Remove the tomato sauce to a bowl; no need to clean the skillet. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover, and cook until wilted, tossing often with tongs for even cooking, 8 to 10 minutes. Return the tomato sauce to the pan, add 1 tablespoon of the parsley, and season with 1/8 teaspoon pepper; cover and set aside.
  4. On a plate, combine the breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, and the remaining chopped parsley. Place the egg white on a second plate. Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken into the egg whites, and then into the breadcrumb mixture to coat completely; set aside on a large plate or platter.
  5. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in each of two non-stick 10-inch skillets over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken to each skillet and cook until lightly browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip, and cook until chicken is firm, and lightly browned on the other side, 2 to 3 more minutes. (5-6 minutes total)
  6. To serve, rewarm the zucchini in the tomato sauce over medium heat. Use tongs to make a “twist” of zucchini pappardelle on each of four plates. Lean chicken cutlets against the side of zucchini. Scoop 1 tablespoon ricotta onto each plate, and spoon remaining tomato sauce on top of the chicken. To garnish each plate, drizzle chicken with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon Parmesan.