Whether or not I want to admit it, spaghetti with jarred pasta sauce is a can’t-miss dinner around here, usually served when I’ve somehow forgotten about cooking dinner, even though it’s something I do literally every day.
When I was a younger man, I would spend all day making huge batches of pasta sauce that would feed me for a whole week; big burbling pots of fresh tomatoes, cooked down until all of their acidity evaporated, with tons of body in the sauce thanks to the trio of celery, carrot, and green pepper that I would cut by hand for hours into a mince so fine, it would eventually cook away to nothing. Big chunks of sausage or crumbled ground beef or veal, and as much garlic as I could scrounge up in my tiny bachelor’s kitchen.
But then I had kids, and had to get real. An easy, thrown-together weeknight meal only makes sense if you don’t spend hours on it, right? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeding kids jarred pasta sauce, and I totally get it: It’s sweet, it’s nonthreatening, it feeds a crowd, and it’s cheap. Recently, I became indoctrinated into the cultlike following of Rao’s Marinara Sauce*, and as jarred sauces go, it’s tough to beat. Rao’s uses high quality tomatoes and olive oil, without any added preservatives or coloring. In fact, the rest of the ingredient list reads like something you might make yourself: salt, pepper, onions, garlic, basil, and oregano, with none of the added sugar that makes most jarred sauces so gross.
*This isn’t a sponsored post, because from what I can tell, this blog is pretty much me just talking to myself. That being said, if someone in the marketing department at Rao’s wants to hook me up with some sweet sweet Rao’s schwag, I’m a “medium.”
Because I used a prefab sauce for this dish, I felt like there was no excuse not to use some of my newly-freed up leisure time to whip together some panko-crusted chicken breasts. These are super easy: Pound ’em out, give them a quick bath in an egg wash, and then roll them around in some packaged Japanese breadcrumbs.
Look, we’re not revolutionizing dinnertime, here. We’re just trying to get the kids to eat. Cut corners where it makes sense, make things from scratch when you can, and if your meal can somehow be chicken finger-based, all the better.
Easy Weeknight Chicken Parmesan
- 3/4 cup flour
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 eggs
- 2 pounds chicken breast cutlets pounded thin
- 2 cups seasoned Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 jar good pasta sauce 26 ounces
- 8 ounces part-skim mozzarella shredded
- 3/4 cup Parmesan grated
- 1 box angel hair pasta cooked per package instructions
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Set up your dredging station: In a shallow dish (pie plates work great), combine flour with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. In a second dish, beat together eggs. In a third dish, place seasoned breadcrumbs.
- Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Dip into egg mixture, then dredge in bread crumbs, pressing on gently. Set aside on a clean plate and move on to the next one, working until all pieces are coated and ready to fry.
- In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. oil over medium high heat. Add one-quarter of cutlets. Cook until golden, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. Continue cooking chicken, adding oil as needed, until you notice you don't have any more chicken.
- Pour half of spaghetti sauce into a 13-inch baking pan. Place one layer of cutlets on top. Cover with half of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Layer with remaining cutlets and sauce. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until hot and bubbling, 20 minutes, and serve with angel hair pasta and more cheese.
Real World Scorecard:
Violet (Age 7): Violet will eat spaghetti all day, in any form. Tomato sauce may be her primary source of vegetables. She had a bit of trouble cutting the huge slab of chicken, and probably would have preferred it not be there at all.
Mina (Age 4): Ate buttered noodles, then wandered off.
Does it enter the rotation? Absolutely. Without spaghetti, these kids might not grow beyond their current size.