Food + Wine

Parmesan Crusted Chicken with a Raw Tomato-Basil Sauce and Spinach Cakes

Heavy title.  But man, is this a good meal.  If you’ve followed me for awhile, you’ve seen it before. You’ve just never really seen decent photos of it 😉  It’s been a family favorite for years, as I first made it for my husband when we were just dating.  Now my kids love it!  And isn’t that just a lovely thing?

What’s not to like here? It’s like the best and juiciest fried chicken (but without the bones) and just way more flavorful.  Also?  It’s gluten free for all you wheat free-ers!  Because…. this crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside chicken is (wait for it… wait for it…) only coated in cheese.  Yup.  No flour, no breadcrumbs.  AND it’s not deep fried.

Now, tell me when you look at those pictures you aren’t shocked by that.  It’s so good!!!

And it’s so, so lovely with the raw tomato-basil sauce.  I love making this meal when the garden tomatoes are perfectly ripe and sweet, and the basil is growing out of control (buuut you’ll also totally see me making it in the winter with grape tomatoes and basil from the grocery store).  The combination of crispy and toasty-cheesy chicken with the bright sauce is a flavor and texture mouth explosion.

And I have always served this chicken with my spinach cakes.  That may sound odd, I get that.  Spinach + Cake = hmm…? But it’s really the tastiest and coolest way to eat spinach.  And it’s perfect for little kids.  Both my kids love these things!  My mom used to make what she called Italian Spinach, and it was one of my favorite side-dishes ever as a kid.  It was kinda like creamed spinach, but with a lot of garlic, and no cream… but an egg stirred in really quickly at the end to make it ‘creamy’ (à la carbonara).  These cakes take those same flavors but pack it all in a patty and sear it until golden brown.  So you get a nice crust on the outside, and a soft, cheesy spinach lounge party on the inside.

(These happen to be gluten-free for y’all too!)

Trust me, if you’re at all a spinach fan (or even if you think you don’t like spinach), I believe you’d dig these.  And I have a bonus recipe coming up with what to do with any leftovers 😉

This meal means so much to me.  It brings back so many memories of the times when it was just my husband and me, and I was first falling in love with cooking.  It was one of the first meals I remember making him that afterwards, he announced that he wanted me to make it for him forever.

And so far I’ve kept my promise.




serves 4, easy to double, etc.

. c h i c k e n .

(Tell me this doesn’t look deep fried and dredged in all sorts of stuff?!)

For 4 people, plan on 4 large breasts, totaling about 2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, as each large breast is roughly 1/2 lb. (note that I do not regularly cook with boneless, skinless breasts, as I find they lack in flavor, but… it’s the perfect cut for this.)  Also, if you’re local to me and a Harris Teeter shopper, buy them at the butcher’s counter, not wrapped in plastic in the meat case.  They’re a better, and more local product… AND cheaper at the counter… only $1.99/lb instead of the average $6ish per pound!  It’s their ongoing ‘loss leader’ (a.k.a. product sold at a loss to the company in order to attract customers) and I encourage you all to take advantage of it for your home cooking.

Ok, back to it…

Pat those pretty breastststsss dry.  Set aside.

On a baking sheet, or large plate, …

  • 2 cups shredded (not finely grated!) Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (or you can sub Pecorino or Asiago or Romano… but please don’t use domestic Parmesan)
  • the zest of 1 lemon
  • lots of freshly grated, nutmeg
  • lots of freshly cracked black pepper


Take each breast and season one side with kosher salt (you can go lighter than usual because the cheese is salty), then firmly press that salted side into the cheese mixture, salt the other side and then flip/press.  You want as much cheese to cling to all surface areas as possible.  Repeat til all the chicken has been coated.

(This can be, and generally is for me, done in advance and then covered in plastic wrap for the fridge til I’m ready to cook (tip- spray the down-side of your plastic wrap with cooking spray to prevent it from sticking to the cheesy chicken.)

In a very large skillet (or two smaller ones…nonstick is best) coat with…

  • a heck of a lot of canola oil

Yes, that’s a technical measuring term. I do not use a lot of oil when I cook, but here it is necessary to make the cheese stick to the chicken.  The chicken will not absorb this oil, as it’s not coated in flour or bread of any kind, so it’s only there for utilitarian purposes, so don’t be scared and put a good 1/2 inch or so layer of oil in that/those skillets.

Get it very hot at medium heat.

Carefully place each chicken breast (making sure all the cheese is still on it) into the hot oil and DO NOT MOVE IT until flipping time.  Seriously..  The cheese will immediately begin to stick to the chicken’s surface because of the hot oil.  Let it sear for 7 minutes before (carefully) flipping.  Then cook for another 7 minutes on the next side.  It should be done now. But make sure you check.

Place the chicken on paper towels to drain and note all the oil in the pan still!  Rest while you fix your spinach cakes…

. s p i n a c h  c a k e s .

makes 4 large cakes

Defrost 1 lb. of frozen spinach and squeeze out all the water using a kitchen towel wrapped around it like a little beggars purse.  Place in a mixing bowl.

Add to it…

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (loosely packed) cup grated Pecorino cheese (or parm/asiago or romano…)
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • the zest of 1 large lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated in the bowl using a microplane
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt +good  pinch
  • roughly 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I never measure it, just grate it right in….)

Mix well with a fork and shape into 4 equal patties, packing them tightly.

(You can also make these ahead of time and cover them for the fridge.)

When you’re ready to cook them, (and I like to use the same skillet(s) as I cooked the chicken in, but discarding all but a thin sheen of the oil first), get your pan hot on medium heat again.

Place each cake in the hot skillet and sear a couple of minutes on one side before flipping.  It should be a deep, golden brown before flipping.

Cook until the same golden brown on the other.

Serve a piece of crispy chicken over a spinach cake and top with the following sauce…

. r a w  t o m a t o  b a s i l  s a u c e .

Plan on using 4 small-medium ripe, garden tomatoes, or a pint of grape/cherry tomatoes

Cut the tomatoes into bite sized pieces and place into a bowl.

Add to it…

  • a handful of fresh basil leaves,  cut into a chiffonade, or chopped finely
  • a couple pinches of kosher salt to taste
  • a splash of extra virgin olive oil
  • a splash of red wine vinegar

Adjust seasoning to your liking.

Serve this dish warm and repeat as necessary!!

Also note that both the chicken and the spinach cakes just so happen to be delicious leftover and cold 😉

And remember to stay tuned for a leftover idea with those spinach cakes!

Take care, y’all. xo

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