Dried oregano is probably in your cupboard, either by itself or in a pre-mixed blend of Italian Seasoning. But there is a whole world of flavor to the mint family’s Organum vulgare that you may be missing out on if you’re only using it dried.
In addition to its well-known uses in Italian-American cuisine, the fresh version of oregano is also popular across Europe, especially in Spain, Turkey, and Greece. When dried, oregano loses a lot of its spicy punch, while a good, fresh oregano packs a powerful blend of sweet and bitter.
When dried, oregano also loses much of its health value. This fresh Mediterranean herb is high in antioxidants. Fresh oregano is sturdy and lasts up to one week in the refrigerator, so long as it doesn’t get too cold.
Here’s a recipe for an old family classic with a few healthy twists. Because the chicken is baked, not fried, it’s a lot safer for letting the kids get involved. Perhaps this is an opportunity for a good egg-cracking lesson.
Also, to get kids accustomed to the sometimes powerful taste of oregano, encourage them to pull the leaves apart. They can taste a bit if they’d like. It’s at its healthiest before cooking it at all, but fresh oregano has a tendency to numb the tongue. This will intrigue adventurous kids. For the cautious, simply getting in close for a good smell is the better bet.
Baked Chicken Parmesan
- 4 cups of any tomato sauce you like — fresh and homemade is great, but sauce is fine in a pinch
- 3-4 sprigs fresh oregano, pulled apart
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup Italian flavored bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (plus some for topping later)
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- mozzarella cheese for topping the chicken
- Preheat oven to 400°F and spray a cookie sheet or baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl.
- Put flour on a piece of wax paper. On another piece of wax paper, mix the bread crumbs with 2 tablespoons Parmesan and sprinkle with salt and pepper to your taste.
- Lightly dredge the chicken in the flour and dip in the eggs. Then, coat the breasts in bread crumbs.
- Place the breasts on the pan or sheet and spray lightly with more cooking spray.
- Bake the chicken until golden brown — this will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken, but it will be between 10-15 minutes.
- While the chicken is cooking, warm a saucepan over medium heat. Pour the olive oil into the saucepan.
- Pour the tomato sauce into the saucepan along with the sprigs of oregano. When it starts to bubble, let simmer until chicken is ready.
- Check to ensure that the chicken is done (it should have an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees at its thickest point). Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with some mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Put back in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese has melted.
Chicken parmesan is not so-named because of the cheese used in the dish. Which makes sense because, as the recipe above indicates (and menus across the US point out), the primary cheese is mozzarella, not parmesan.
The name came from where the genesis dish — actually veal crumbled with ham and cheese and fried — was created: Parma, Italy. Hundreds of years of culinary evolution drowned the meats in tomato and cheese.
Parma is a northern Italian city also famous for (it should be obvious now) parmesan — or, to be more accurate, parmagiano — cheese.