(Above: Layered like lasagna, with eggplant, chicken, and zucchini, chick-plant-asagna was born out of necessity.)
We were hungry.
I had eggplant, zucchini, some leftover cheddar cheese and a new block of Parmigiano-Reggiano in the refrigerator. All day long I thought of those ingredients and asked myself what I could make for dinner. Around 4 p.m., the answer came to me.
I just needed chicken cutlets so I stopped at the supermarket on my way home and found some chicken tenders that looked better than the other cuts of chicken there. I brought them home and flattened them between two pieces of aluminum foil (I had nothing else). And that’s where our story (recipe) begins.
I don’t believe that salting the eggplant and letting it drain helps get rid of the bitterness so I never do that. Instead, I make sure to buy a really good eggplant: one that is dark in color, one that has a smooth skin without blemishes, and one that is firm to the touch. And I peel the skin, leaving vertical stripes, so that when you slice the eggplant, each slice only has a little skin on it. I believe this helps to keep the bitterness to a minimum.
After you bake the vegetables, fry the chicken, and saute a tomato and wine sauce, you assemble the dish ending with a layer of cheese and fresh salsa.
The dish was delicious but it still needed a name. I posted a photo of it on Facebook and asked for suggestions. My friend Katie M. suggested Chickplantasagna. It was the perfect name for a perfect dish.
- Chicken tenders (About 9 or 10, flattened by pounding them with a rolling pin between two pieces of wax paper, parchment paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.) Or, if available, use thinly sliced chicken cutlets.
- Eggplant (1 dark, purple — firm, but not bruised — beauty).
- Zuchinni (1)
- Red pepper (1)
- Cheddar cheese (about 1/4 cup shredded)
- Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup, grated)
- Fresh salsa (about 1 cup)
- Tomato Paste, imported and from a tube (about 3 or 4 good squirts)
- Red wine (about 1/3 cup), and a little water too.
- Garlic (1 clove, torn open with your fingers)
- Olive oil, regular, not extra-virgin (about 1/2 cup)
- Lemon pepper
- Step 1 Take the skin off the eggplant by peeling off strips of it using a vegetable peeler. The eggplant will look like it has stripes as some of the skin remains.
- Step 2 Cut thin (about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick) slices of the eggplant. Brush olive oil on one side of each slice. Brush olive oil on a cookie sheet and put eggplant, dry side down. Cook in a 450 degree oven, turning over once, until both sides are brown.
- Step 3 Cut thin slices of zuchhini (about 1/4-inch to 1/2 inch thick). Put oil on both sides. Cut long strips of red pepper (about 1/2 inch thick) and put oil on both sides. Cook zuchhini and red pepper on a baking sheet in a 450 degree oven until done.
- Step 4 Fry chicken cutlets in a little olive oil and the clove of garlic. Sprinkle with lemon pepper.
- Step 5 When chicken is done, heat frying pan again. Add the tomato paste and the wine and water and stir. Add salt and pepper. Let the wine and water evaporate a little bit. Stir scraping the bottom of the pan. Add about 1 tablespoon of butter and stir some more. Turn off heat.
- Step 6 Assemble the dish by putting a little olive oil on the bottom of a ceramic baking dish, along with a few tablespoons of the fresh salsa. Add half of the chicken cutlets. Pour over half of the tomato paste sauce. Add half of the cheeses. Top with half of the zuchhini, red peppers, and eggplant slices. And then repeat this with the remaining ingredients, ending with the rest of the cheese and some fresh salsa.
- Step 7 Bake in a 350 degree oven until cheese melts.