I haven’t made this dish in a long time. This was probably one of the first dishes I’ve ever made. I wanted to keep this blog only about food, but when I have a night where I resort to something so simple, I have to confess….
I am a lawyer by profession. Everyday I work long hours, including (and luckily not too often) on weekends. When I’m done, I go to the gym or play tennis, or attend a civil rights committee meeting, or meet up with friends or my language exchange partner or one of a million other things that keep me motivated and get me out of bed in the morning. Cooking is my creative release. It provides me with space to be alone in the kitchen and lets me create something that is meant to be savored and shared. It connects me to who I am, reminds me of where I came from, where I’ve been and where I could be.
Something about this chicken parmesan dish, a version of which I first made when I was in college, has given rise to this disclaimer: I will not be able to create something that excites me every single night, though I will try. I try to reinvent old-classics and go-to dishes, then chronicle the joy that comes in making something fresh and healthy in under an hour. Tonight my intention was to cook something new and different in an effort to constantly evolve my craft and myself as a person. I want staples in the kitchen, not stagnation. When I walked through the door tonight, I just did not have the energy to try what I had in mind. I had some work to finish, I still felt slightly groggy/hungover from last night’s holiday party and the thought of trying the Indonesian chicken dish I was reading about earlier in the day just made me want to close my eyes. I had also had a giant bowl of Vietnamese pho for lunch, so I just wanted something small and simple. I saw the chicken in the fridge that I had bought on Monday, and the extra tomato sauce from the fantastic chili, some cilantro, garlic, onions, and low fat cheese. The oldest go-to in my arsenal, baked chicken parmesan, was the obvious choice.
(Vietnamese pho for lunch, made of beef broth, mint, cilantro, bean sprouts, chili peppers, basil, and vermicelli)
While my baked chicken-parmesan is flavorful and delicious, easy and healthy, and smells so darned good, did relying on it tonight mean that I am regressing? This dish brings me back to the days when I had neither the means nor the experience to cook how I wanted to cook. I had no real kitchen to speak of. I had no money to speak of and an underdeveloped palette. Often the side dish would be pasta and a frozen vegetable medley. I knew only how to use salt and pepper. Knowing what food and nutrition means to me now as an adult makes me want to go back in time and show myself that it would get better, that I would learn and evolve and that the means (money, time, desire and knowledge) to cook well would come in due time. I would show myself that one day I would make a version of this chicken parmesan with fresh cilantro and herbs, fresh tomatoes, garlic, onions, humanely raised chicken, accompanied by a side of seasonal squash, a spinach salad with fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables and a bottle of wine that I brought back myself from Chile and that I would create it in my own (rental apartment) kitchen, (albeit tiny with an impractical layout) and that my boyfriend at the time would become my husband and life partner.
I think not knowing all of these things is exactly what makes life exciting and interesting. It’s what keeps me hopeful and makes me try harder, learn more and seek out new foods, different cultures, and lifestyles. It’s part of the evolution. And though this dish is ultimately very similar to when I first made it about twelve years ago, the way in which I think about it is different, which in and of itself symbolizes growth.
Without further ado my staple and flashback recipe:
- 4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 inch thickness
- 1 egg
- seasoned bread crumbs (you can add your own herbs, garlic, etc to this)
- Grated mozzarella cheese (as much as you see fit)
- 1 jar (16 oz) tomato sauce (or your own homemade sauce if you prefer or a layer crushed tomatoes)