This dish is what chicken parmesan would be if it grew up, ate mostly salad, and got a personal trainer, but still yielded to the occasional urge to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy. Is it perfectly healthy? No. But it’s trying, and it comes close.
Maybe this dish deserves a catchier name. But let’s be honest. Abi – Xavier’s daughter – is the one who requests this dinner most frequently. She calls it “the chicken with the peppers.” Then I wonder if it was the stir-fried chicken, where bell peppers were accompanied by a handful of broccoli? Or perhaps the curried chicken with caramelized onions and strips of pepper almost melting into the sauce? As it turns out, none of the above. Why not just call it “Abi’s Chicken with Peppers?”
Abi’s Chicken with Peppers was born by accident. Don’t you love when you throw together a random meal and it turns out to be a huge hit? The kind of meal that is requested again and again? That was how this happened. It was the end of the week and the fridge was looking bare. I had chicken breasts, some leftover tomato sauce, and a smattering of vegetables. What to make?
My first thought: chicken parm. Now, our household loves chicken parmesan. I mean, really, really, really loves it. Nobody is Italian, or even close to it – we’re a mixture of Eastern European and Ecuadorian – but somehow that dish has made its way into our hearts and souls. The only issue is, we feel guilty eating it. The chicken is breaded, fried, and smothered with mozzarella. Obviously we love our indulgences, but generally we try to stay active and eat healthy foods.
I decided to skip the breading stage, and just saute chicken breasts to give them a quick sear. Then I’d smother the cutlets in sauteed bell pepper. Crunch is great, especially when it comes from crispy veggies and not breaded chicken coating! The chicken is placed in a baking dish, just like chicken parmesan, where it receives a healthy splash of tomato sauce and a moderate sprinkling of cheese. Sure, you can skip that if you’re really going for the low-calorie version. But as I tell myself, our brains need fat to stay healthy and continue to think of healthy modifications to recipes!
Abi’s Chicken with Peppers
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pint tomato sauce, warm (my favorite)
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper
Olive oil, for sauteeing
1 bell pepper, sliced
Mozzarella cheese, grated, to taste (I use about 1/2 cup)
First, prepare the chicken breasts. Using a very sharp knife, slice the breasts in half lengthwise so you end up with four thin cutlets. Pound the cutlets (between two pieces of plastic wrap, or inside a plastic bag) until they are thin and somewhat even. I do this with whatever heavy object I have laying around, be it a wine bottle, a can of tomatoes, or sometimes my fist.
Right about now, you’ll want to preheat the oven to 425F.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken breasts in the mixture. Pre-heat a large saute pan over medium-high. Add a tiny bit of olive oil and saute the chicken breasts until browned on each side. You may need to do this in batches. The chicken is thin so this won’t take long, maybe 2-3 minutes per side. The idea is just to brown them. It’s okay if they’re still a little underdone inside, because they’ll be spending time in the oven, and you want to keep them moist! When the chicken is done, place the cutlets in one layer on a baking sheet that fits them comfortably.
Add just a splash more olive oil to the still-hot pan, and saute the bell peppers for just a minute. You want them to cook just a bit, but keep them crispy.
When the peppers are finished, layer them on top of the chicken cutlets. Ladle sauce on top, then sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese on top melts and begins to brown.
With pasta and salad, this will serve four people… or two to three hungry ones.
Notes: I have been known to add onion and mushroom to the pepper mixture. You could definitely experiment here.
If you make Chiffonade’s sauce, you’ll end up with much more than you need for the chicken. Serve some with the side pasta, and refrigerate or freeze the rest.