Through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program -- which gives me access to free samples of products from time to time -- I recently received two jars of Bertolli pasta sauce.
Now, don't get me wrong, I love to make my own sauce, but I don't always have time. I usually keep a couple of jars of Newman's Own Roasted Garlic Sauce in the pantry for last-minute dinners, but because I had the Bertolli on hand, I used that where I would normally use my standby jarred sauce... in my standby quick dinner: chicken parmesan. I'm planning to be a little more creative with the Four Cheese Rosa sauce, but the Arrabbiata sauce provided just the kick my chicken parm needed. It took a very familiar meal and added a spicy twist to it. It also added the flavors of red peppers, which I love and don't often find in a pasta sauce.
I start by thawing out boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Sometimes, like on this particular night, they don't thaw fully by dinnertime. When that happens I set them (still in the package) in a bowl of cold water. This is quicker than letting them thaw in the fridge, but when I'm even more impatient, I'll cut the chicken into smaller pieces and bread it while it's still slightly frozen. I even pound out the chicken pieces to make them a little thinner and decrease their thawing time even more. By the time I'm done breading and ready to start cooking it, the chicken is usually completely thawed.
And while I bread the chicken, I always have my sauce heating in a small pan and my pasta water boiling. It's important to think about your timing. You don't want your pasta done way before the chicken so it sits there getting cold, clammy, and gummy. You also don't want to be waiting for water to boil while the rest of your meal gets cold. I usually start the water boiling right away and then drop the pasta in when the rest of my meal is just minutes away from being ready.
With sauce warming, water on its way to a boil, and breaded chicken at the ready, you can consider your cooking options. I like sauteeing the in olive oil to ensure that the bread crumbs get brown and toasty.
I also like to use an ovenproof pan so that when I finish cooking the chicken, I can just top it with the sauce and the cheese and pop it right in the oven under the broiler, just long enough for the cheese to melt.
I spoon a little sauce on each piece of chicken to get all the flavor without making the breading soggy or completely drowning the chicken.
A lot of times I mix parmesan right into my bread crumbs before coating the chicken, but I forgot this time, so I sprinkled a little on top of the sauce.
The last and most important part is to toss a generous amount of mozzarella on top of each chicken piece.
Put the whole pan under the broiler, and let your cheese melt. Serve with pasta and extra sauce.
Do you ever use jarred pasta sauce? Come on, you can admit it. What's your favorite kind? I'll definitely use this Bertolli one again because I like the little kick it has. Don't worry. It's pretty mild -- I really don't like anything with too much of a kick -- but it's enough to make dinner more interesting. And who doesn't want that? I kind of want to try some of the Vineyard Collection sauces from Bertolli too, maybe because they're made with wine...