Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chicken Parmesan, the lighter way

Honestly, what I post on this blog is not a particularly accurate representation of my diet.

I eat clean the vast majority of the time, especially when I'm at school cooking for myself.  Most of my diet consists of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, and I make dessert very rarely.   I feel a lot better when I eat a wholesome varied diet.
That doesn't mean that I want my food to taste like it's insanely healthy.  As a result, I'm on an eternal quest to make healthy comfort food.

A total contradiction, I know, but welcome to my life.  I am, after all, an aspiring professional dancer who loves to bake.  I have to at least try to make healthy food taste like it'll clog your arteries!

One of my favorite blow-my-diet Italian dishes is Fettucine Alfredo.  Another is gnocchi in a tomato cream sauce.  Those are things that you just can't make authentic healthy versions of.  Or even authentic-tasting.
I'm sorry, but using low-fat cream cheese to thicken your alfredo sauce is wrongCream cheese??  

Chicken Parmesan, however, was a bit more redeemable.

Instead of browning the breaded chicken in oil, seasoned Panko breadcrumbs are toasted to make them brown and, well, toasty before they're tossed with grated Parmigiana Reggiano to form the breading.  Panko is extra crispy, so you don't miss the frying, and the chicken is cooked entirely in the oven in about 20 minutes total.  Homemade marinara sauce and part-skim mozzarella get all warm and melty on top to finish a dish that satisfies you without weighing you down.  Serve it with a salad or a green vegetable - like grilled zucchini - and a whole-grain baguette, and you have a well-balanced, healthy, AND comforting meal!

And if you need a testament to it's status as healthy comfort food, just ask Jon - I served it to him and he didn't think it tasted "healthy" at all!  Officially guy-approved :)

Lightened-Up Chicken Parmesan
Source: adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from Cook's Illustrated, October 2006

1 1/2 cups Italian-seasoned panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
3 large egg whites
1 tbsp. water
vegetable cooking spray
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut into halves (4 pieces total)
2 cups marinara sauce, warmed
about 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp. minced fresh basil

Preheat oven to 475˚F with an oven rack on the middle position.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat the foil with vegetable cooking spray.
Toast Panko breadcrumbs in a large skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown.  Set aside to cool.
Place flour in a pie plate or on a sheet of wax paper.  Whisk together the egg whites and water in a shallow dish.  Combine cooled breadcrumbs with the grated Parmesan cheese and spread on a sheet of wax paper or a pie plate.  Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper on both sides.  Dredge each piece in the flour, then dip in the egg whites, then cover in breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere.  Transfer the pieces to the baking sheet and place in the heated oven for 15 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink and feels firm when pressed with a finger.  Remove the chicken from the oven.  Spoon 2 tablespoons of sauce over each piece and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella.  Return to the oven for 5-6 more minutes, until the cheese is melted.  Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve as desired with extra sauce and Parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

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