Meat Free Mondays – Butternut Squash Parmesan

Okay, okay, I know. Butternut squash isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think “parmesan”

But I wanted to do a meat-free parmesan dish and my wife, Sandi, just won’t eat eggplant.

Plus I wanted to prove a theory: You can bread just about anything, pan fry it, top it with mozzarella and parmesan and serve it over pasta with a tomato sauce and it’s going to be delicious.

I’m reasonably sure you could make “Paper Napkins Parmesan” and it would taste pretty great.

This is not to take away from the flavor of the butternut squash. It’s mild, slightly nutty and sweet flavor worked very well with the parmesan and the texture was just perfect for breading and frying, at least after I helped it along by softening it in a 375F oven for about 10 minutes first.

The result was a delicious substitute for eggplant parmesan. The crunch of the breading was the perfect complement to the pasta and the combination of the nutty flavor of the squash and the sweet parmesan/gooey mozzarella mix was utterly fantastic.

I’m considering expanding this experiment with some other non-eggplant vegetables, such as sweet potato, acorn squash and even zucchini and yellow squash. Look for them in the coming weeks.

One final note: For this dish, I used the classic three-stage breading method. This is when you first coat whatever you are frying in seasoned flour, then submerge it in an egg wash, and finally dredge it in a bread crumb mixture, in this case Panko bread crumbs and grated parmesan.

The three stage breading method can be used to make just about anything taste great. The flour gives the egg something to hold onto, and the egg absorbs the bread crumbs so the result is a crunchy coating.

Panko bread crumbs are a Japanese-style bread crumb that are larger than regular bread crumbs. They just give you a little bit crunchier texture.

Butternut Squash Parmesan

1 Butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and cut into cross sections

1 cup All-purpose flour

3 Eggs, whisked together

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup Grated parmesan

Pan spray

Sea salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

2 to 3 cups Cooking oil

1 box Pasta, any kind, cooked according to package instructions

1 jar Tomato sauce

1/2 lb Mozzarella ovalini, sliced into discs

1/3 cup Grated parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Spray sheet pan with pan spray, then lay out butternut squash discs. Spray with pan spray, season with salt and pepper and bake about 10 minutes, just to soften. Allow to cool.

2. Set up three stage breading station. Bread butternut squash and lay out on sheet pan.

3.  Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain in colander then return to pot. Add about 2 TBS EVOO, season with salt and pepper and stir. Cover and set aside. Meanwhile, heat up pasta sauce in a separate saucepan, cover and set aside.

4. Heat cooking oil in cast iron skillet. When hot (but not too hot), carefully place breaded butternut squash into pan, a couple at a time, and fry until golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove to sheet pan and arrange in a shingle pattern.

5. Turn on broiler. Arrange mozzarella slices on top of breaded butternut squash slices, then sprinkle generously with parmesan. Place under broiler until mozzarella melted and parmesan starts to brown, about four minutes. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn.

6. To plate, use a tongs to pile pasta in center of pasta bowl, nap with pasta sauce, garnish with additional parmesan, then use a long fish spatula to transfer butternut squash rings on top. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if you wish.

What sort of things do you like to make “parmesan”? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

Budget Cooking – Chicken Parmesan

Italian food is one of the most economical cuisines you can make at home. Fortunately, it’s also one of the most delicious.

At the market this week, I found a 3 lb. package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts for $4.14. It contained two enormous chicken breasts, one of which I threw in the freezer for another time and the other I cut in half lengthwise. Then, I opened up each one by making two slits and flattening them out.

This gave me two large flat pieces of chicken breast perfect for chicken parm all for about $1.03 apiece.

I used them to make this Italian classic that is guaranteed to please your family

Note: This recipe is for two portions. But it’s set up the way I would do it in a restaurant – the chicken, the sauce and the pasta are all prepared and staged separately, then assembled when you are ready for service.

If you wanted to make, say, 12 portions of this for a dinner party (or 200 for a banquet, for that matter), it would be exactly the same procedure, just increase the amounts of each and assemble 12 instead of 2. You can even make the components a day or two ahead of time then heat up when you are ready to assemble.

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

For the Breaded Chicken Cutlet

2 boneless/skinless chicken breast

½ cup bread crumbs

2 TBS Crisco

 For the Pasta

1 lb dried whole wheat linguini (or whatever pasta you want)

½ green pepper, diced

3 medium mushrooms, sliced

½ medium onion, diced

1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed


Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Sauce

8 oz can tomato sauce

1 TBS Italian Seasoning

1 tsp sugar

 For Assembly

4 oz Fresh Mozzarella, cut into 4 discs

2 oz Grated Parmesan

1. Heat large cast iron pan over medium heat. When pan reaches temp, add Crisco and melt. Meanwhile, season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, spray with pan spray, then dredge in bread crumbs. One at a time, carefully place chicken breast in pan and brown on both sides, about two minutes per side. Remove and let rest on sheet pan.

2. In a small saucepan, combine tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and sugar. Cook over a medium low heat, stirring once or twice, until tin can taste is cooked out, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Cook pasta in 4 quarts boiling water until done, about 10 minutes. Drain in colander. Drizzle with a little EVOO to keep from sticking together. Do not rinse!

4. Saute onion and green pepper until onion translucent, about five minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for another minute or two. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Turn off heat.

5. Use a Tablespoon to spread pool of tomato sauce on top of each chicken breast. Shingle two discs of fresh mozzarella on each breast and sprinkle with a generous amount of grated parmesan. Cook in 350F oven until chicken cooked through and mozzarella melted and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

6. Return heat to pasta pot. Add sautéed vegetables. Add pasta. Add remaining EVOO and grated parmesan. Stir and heat through. Season to taste with S&P.

7. To plate, use tongs to pile pasta and vegetables mixture high into middle of pasta bowl. Use a spatula to place chicken on top. Garnish with drizzled EVOO and maybe some chopped parsley or if you have some. Or stick a sprig of parsley in a corner of the chicken for added height.

You can use this same recipe to make Eggplant Parmesan, Zucchini Parmesan, or even Veal Parmesan. Just replace the chicken with any of these substitutes and follow the same recipe. For Veal Parmesan, Cut a veal loin into 2 oz discs, then use a kitchen mallet to pound out each into a flat patty between two pieces of heavy plastic, such as freezer bags.

By the way, this versatile red sauce is the same one I use for my pizza. For that complete recipe, click here.

Buon appetito!