By: Alexander Ehasz, Columnist
When it comes to hearty comfort food, there are few institutions more reliable than the Italian-American family run restaurant. Sometimes called “red sauce joints” for their many dishes relying on a house-made marinara sauce, these spots offer generous portions of unpretentious food that, when made well, is satisfying and delicious. As a child, I remember visiting a local spot that was almost the prototypical red sauce joint, murals of Italy painted on the walls and house-made pasta served by wait staff dressed in starched white shirts and ties. Despite the formality of the dress, our usual waiter was always extremely personable. There was nothing uptight about the experience, and therein, I believe, lies the magic. Although it was almost never a meal for a special occasion, each visit did seem like a bit of a celebration – a celebration of family, of community, and of great food. In this recipe, I aim to capture the flavors that are at the core of these iconic, comforting restaurants.
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Active time: 30 minutes
- 1 pound chicken breasts or thighs
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- Salt and pepper
- 3 cups frying oil such as canola or peanut
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 5 basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons salt plus more to taste
- 1 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
- ½ pound mozzarella, shredded
- ¼ cup shredded or grated parmesan
- 1 pound pasta
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Parsley for garnish
Mince or press the garlic. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat for 1 minute before adding the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes until golden and fragrant but not brown. Add the tomatoes and reduce heat to medium-low. Add the oregano and simmer for half an hour. Blend with an immersion blender (or transfer to a standard blender if you don’t have one) and blend until more homogenous but still somewhat chunky. Tear and add the basil leaves. Contribute simmering over low until ready to use.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare your chicken. If using whole chicken breasts, place them under plastic wrap and flatten with a meat tenderizer or the bottom of a frying pan. Prepare your dredging station – set out bowls containing the beaten eggs, 1 cup flour, and 1 cup flour mixed with 1 cup breadcrumbs. Generously season the chicken with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken into the flour, coating generously before dipping it into the egg and then the flour/breadcrumbs mixture. Repeat for the remaining chicken.
Heat the oil over high in a heavy frying pan. The oil should be at around 375 F. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Gently lay as many breaded pieces of chicken as you can into the pan while keeping around an inch of space between them. Adjusting the stove to keep the temperature between 350 and 400 F, cook for 5 or so minutes until golden brown. Set aside onto a cooling rack or paper towel-lined plate and cook the remaining chicken
Spread the sauce over the bottom of a baking dish. Place the chicken into the sauce. Sprinkle both cheeses over the top. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown. While the chicken bakes, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to your desired doneness. Strain and toss with butter.
Remove the chicken from the oven and serve. Plate the pasta and then top with the chicken before garnishing with parsley.