The best bowl of gumbo I ever had was my first one. That’s the way it goes with me, more often than not. My first experience with anything that’s new and wonderful finds a special and permanent home in my heart. My first gumbo experience was at a seafood restaurant in north Texas…far, far away from the gulf coast, where seafood reigns supreme. I sat alone, outside, at a picnic table on a wooden deck, on a chilly, rainy autumn evening and I watched the cars as they sped down the wet street. That bowl of gumbo warmed my bones and lifted my soul. The aroma, steaming upward from the bowl, was a magical mixture of earthiness and briny sea. The flavor was complex and deep, yet comfortable like my favorite winter coat.
Gumbo is truly American, like Jazz, which is to say that it is the marriage of many cultures from around the world. Gumbo is influenced by African, French, Spanish, German and native American cuisines. Gumbo represents what America aspires to be. Find a seat and share your story with us. Everyone is welcome here.
Ah, just when you thought this might be a Tex-Mex blog, I packed up and took a trip to Italy. Chicken Parmesan is actually more American than Italian. Italian immigrants created this dish but it was inspired by classic Italian dishes, which sometimes included breaded eggplant and sliced ham…sometimes with sauce, sometimes not. As with so many recipes, I admire different interpretations. Each variation exists for a reason, whether it is based on taste preference or the availability of ingredients. Make every meal one that you will enjoy. If you fall in love with a meal, others will follow.
This dish is simple to make but, admittedly, difficult to
make with verve.
The secret ingredient, this time around, is homemade tomato
sauce. Summer is here and I am
surrounded by buckets of fresh tomatoes.
My lovely wife has already sliced many of those tomatoes and put them in
them in a dehydrator to make “sun dried tomatoes”. Sun dried tomatoes are an absolute joy! They are intensely sweet and are full of concentrated
tomato goodness! They can be sealed in
plastic bags and frozen for months. When
they are pulled out of the freezer, they will still seem just as vibrant as the
day that they were prepared. If you want
to soften them, just soak them in water for 20 to 30 minutes. They can be used in
salads or added to soup stock. One of the
best ways to use them is with pasta. Prepare
any pasta you like and add sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and basil and you won’t
be disappointed. So simple…so elegant! Whatever you do, don’t let your ripe tomatoes
go to waste!
But, while I had fresh tomatoes on hand, I wanted to create a delicious foundation for an American-Italian classic… Parmigiana di Pollo, or Chicken Parmesan. Sautéed zucchini accompanies the Chicken Parmesan, shown here…
Ingredients for the
2 gallons whole, ripe tomatoes
6 Tbs fresh basil, chopped fine
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbs dried onion flake
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
½ tsp crushed black pepper
Directions for the
I picked enough tomatoes to fill two gallon buckets. After washing them, I cut the tops off and
scooped out the seeds and much of the juice with my fingers. I cut the tomatoes into one inch pieces and
put them in a large pot. I set the stove
to the lowest setting and let them simmer for about five hours, stirring every
half hour, or so. Keeping the heat low
reduces the chance of burning the tomatoes.
You really don’t want the sauce to have a burnt flavor! I could have set the stove to medium heat, to
reduce the cooking time, but that would have required me to stand at the stove,
stirring and stirring, to avoid charring them.
Patience and laziness are a virtue, sometimes.
I allowed the tomatoes to reduce down to about ½ gallon of
chunky sauce. I added the basil, garlic,
dried onion flakes, thyme, rosemary and black pepper and then I poured the
sauce into a blender. I pureed the reduction
and poured it back into the pot. In case
you are wondering, I didn’t add sugar.
Since I used ripe tomatoes, the sauce was already sweet enough. I say, let the tomato speak for itself! Or, in my feeble attempt at Latin phrasing, “res
I reduced the sauce until it was nearly a paste, which took about ½ hour. I wound up with about one quart of
sauce. Perfect for a serving of four to six
Ingredients for the
rest of the dish:
4 to 6 medium sized chicken breasts – or about 1 ½ to 2 lbs.
(Note: in the good
ol’ days a whole chicken breast was defined to be the two halves that were
still connected. For this recipe, I am using
the modern definition, which means two or three whole chicken breasts, divided
in half. (Sound confusing?…well, I
suppose it is.)
3 Tbs olive oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs (lightly whisked)
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
½ cup grated mozzarella
½ cup fresh, sliced fresh mushrooms (optional)
preparing the chicken:
Dredge the chicken in flour and knock off the excess
flour. Dip the chicken in egg and then
coat with bread crumbs.
Heat an oven-proof pan on the stove at low to medium heat. Add the oil and then add the chicken. Turn the chicken every few minutes until each side turns golden brown. Remove the chicken and add the sauce to the pan. Lay the chicken on top of sauce and spoon some sauce on top of the chicken. Top with the mozzarella, mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. Bake in oven at 350° for about five minutes, or until the cheese has melted.
You may serve the chicken from the pan, which will help to keep
the food warm, or remove to a serving platter.
Garnish with fresh Italian parsley, or diced green onion.