Seasons’ Eatings: Chicken Parm with Fresh Tomato Sauce
By Kara Rota
New York, NY – After Marc’s Grilled Heirloom Tomato and Basil Flatbread, I was looking forward to Relaying off of the tomato and basil to make one of my favorite go-to dishes: chicken parm. But first, let’s address some fascinating linguistic history. Have you ever wondered why the cheese prominently featured in chicken parm (or, as it’s often referred to, chicken parmesan) is mozzarella? The ‘parm’ in the title likely comes from parmigiana, meaning ‘from Parma’, in Northern Italy. To confuse the matter further, chicken parm is a Southern Italian dish (Veal parmigiana, which did originate in Parma, consisted of veal cutlets breaded and fried – no cheese, no tomato). Another theory attributes the ‘parm’ to the Sicilian word parmiciana, referring to the slats of wood which compose the central part of a shutter and overlap, as does the thinly sliced eggplant in eggplant parm. The inclusion of parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano) cheese is the least complex explanation.
Then there’s the sauce: most Americans commonly refer to a classic Italian tomato-basil sauce as marinara, which actually means ‘mariner’s wife’ and, predictably, traditionally includes seafood. The tomato sauce we’re talking about is more accurately called pomarola, whether the Tuscan variety, which is cooked longer, or the Neapolitan, which is cooked for less time and is often applied to pizza.
But my family isn’t one to get caught up in the technicalities. My Uncle Tony grows Jersey tomatoes behind his shoe store, chops them with basil, salt and pepper, onions, and a little vinegar, and keeps it in the fridge for weeks to eat with too-sharp Provolone and crusty bread. And my Uncle Richie has been known to enjoy lasagna I’ve made with spinach, tofu, leftover mushroom risotto, and eggplant-tomato sauce I’d frozen towards the end of last year’s tomato season. When it comes to devouring the glut of summer tomatoes, the authenticity of the dishes we make with them is the least of our concerns.
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For my version of chicken parm, I never bother peeling and seeding the tomatoes (sorry, Julia Child), but puree them whole and then cook them fairly briefly – just enough for some of the water to evaporate. I got the beefsteaks in this recipe at my 79th Street Greenmarket, purchased from Monkshood Nursery and Gardens in Stuyvesant, NY. The fresh basil came in the form of a basil plant from Emmerich Greenhouses in Warwick, NY, and the eggs from Feather Ridge Farm in the Hudson Valley. The salt I used has local connections: HimalaSalt pink Himalayan sea salt is sustainably sourced in the Himalayas and packaged and distributed in Great Barrington, MA. I got fresh mozzarella at Zabar’s and the grated Parmesan from Trader Joe’s, where I also picked up Empire kosher organic chicken (they’re located in central Pennsylvania).
Chicken parm is a fantastic staple: it’s a crowd pleaser, kid-friendly, portable, and does a good job keeping warm in the oven if dinner’s delayed. Throw together a Caesar salad and you’re good to go!
Chicken Parm with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Yield: 4 generous servings
- 2 lbs fresh tomatoes: plum or beefsteak work well.
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 1/5 cup olive oil
- Salt, sugar, crushed red pepper, dried thyme, and dried oregano to taste
- 1/3 lb fresh mozzarella
- Four chicken breasts, about 1/2 lb each
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- Wash the tomatoes and puree them in a food processor. Transfer to large stockpot and heat over medium.
- Cook for about ten minutes, then add pinches of salt, sugar, crushed red pepper, and dried oregano, adjusting to taste.
- Wash and chop basil, add to stockpot.
- Simmer over low heat for an additional 5 minutes.
- Mix together the breadcrumbs and grated parmesan in one large bowl.
- Beat the eggs in another large bowl.
- Heat enough olive oil to comfortably cover the bottom of a large skillet, until oil is hot enough that a breadcrumb quickly sizzles when dropped in.
- Dip each chicken breast in breadcrumb mixture, then egg, then breadcrumb mixture again, coating thoroughly.
- Pan-fry chicken breasts in olive oil until golden brown on all sides, approximately 3-4 minutes per side.
- Thinly coat the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the golden brown chicken breasts in the baking dish. Pour the tomato sauce over the chicken.
- Slice mozzarella thinly and place on top of the sauce.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted and browning and chicken is cooked through.
Kara is a professional food enthusiast at Cookstr, a freelance food writer, and a sporadic livetweeter @karalearota. She lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her boyfriend and their cats, Gwildor & Mel.