Each week, I plan a menu and post it on the refrigerator. I jokingly refer to our kitchen as “The Cafe” and, in fact, include that title on my printed menu. The menu lists five complete meals — which always provides a few left-overs to round out the week.
Each day, I ask my husband to select a meal from the menu. Maybe that sounds a bit silly, but I like having him involved in the meal-planning and serving process. I think it’s important to consider nutrition as part of a healthy lifestyle, and letting him choose from a list of suggestions is a sure way to guarantee he’ll enjoy the meal.
For Saturday, his choice was the easy Italian-styled meal I’d listed:
Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Peppers, Garlic, Onions, and Tomatoes
The chicken dish is simplicity itself.
4 boneless chicken breasts, flattened
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon Italian herbs (oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary)
4 slices Provolone cheese
1 teaspoon butter
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pound chicken breasts with flat side of meat mallet until flattened to an even thickness.
- Place bread crumbs on flat dish.
- Press both sides of the chicken into the crumbs.
- Place coated chicken pieces in a greased 9×13 inch baking dish.
- Sprinkle with Italian herbs and top with Provolone cheese.
- Dot with butter.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is golden and crispy around the edges.
What I really want to talk about today though isn’t the chicken. It’s the spaghetti.
When I was young, I once dined at an Italian restaurant in Kansas City. Quite a memorable experience, you see. Actually, I’d never set foot in a restaurant until I was about fourteen years old. It was a bit of a shock to realize there were places that served real food. Until then, I’d thought “eating out” meant a hamburger and fries. Needless to say, dining in “the big city” at a fancy Italian restaurant left quite an impression upon me.
I don’t recall the name of the dish — maybe it was Provolone Chicken — but I remember the spaghetti. Unlike the spaghetti we ate at home, this was served not with a thick, red tomato sauce, but with only mushrooms, butter, and lots of Parmesan cheese. I loved it.
From then on, I always ate my spaghetti with nothing but butter and cheese. People thought I was weird. Of course, I am weird in a lot of different ways, but that’s beside the point. I also discovered “angel hair” pasta, and that’s what I usually serve.
For years, whenever I fixed spaghetti for my family, I’d take out my portion first and set it aside while the rest of the family poured red sauce on theirs. I often made Italian tomato sauce, but never for my spaghetti. I’d use it for meats or for other pastas — baked ziti is one of my favorites — but when it came to spaghetti, I wanted nothing more than my butter and cheese.
Until one day I came across a recipe for spaghetti with fresh tomatoes. The actual name of the dish is spaghetti al pomodoro crudo and it’s popular during the hot summers in Italy. It’s also incredibly tasty.
I don’t really have a recipe to offer, but no recipe is needed. I fix mine by pouring a bit of olive oil in a skillet, and then adding in sliced bell peppers (whatever color I have on hand), minced garlic, onions, and mushrooms. I usually have all of these ingredients, but if I haven’t picked up fresh mushrooms, I will use canned ones. Not quite as good, but it works.
I add in a few Italian herbs, of course, and I cook until the peppers and onions are tender. I serve it over freshly cooked spaghetti (I use whole-wheat spaghetti), and then I grab the tomatoes and a cutting board. I chop up two or three tomatoes, depending on the variety. I’m especially fond of Roma tomatoes, but will use whatever I have. I refrigerate them so they’re chilled when I slice them up.
The combination of hot spaghetti, peppers, onions, and mushrooms, combined with the fresh — cold — tomatoes is unimaginably good. Of course, we enjoy the dish with sprinkles of Parmesan and Romano cheeses. With a green salad and thick slices of garlic bread, it’s one of the most delicious meals ever served in my “kitchen cafe”.
I serve it often with Provolone Chicken, or sometimes, I add cooked shrimp to the peppers and onions to make a one-dish meal. You can also serve it with baby clams. Or meatballs. Or Italian sausage. If I have mozzarella cheese in the refrigerator, I’ll sometimes shred a bit of it to sprinkle on top. And I always add a dab or two of butter, but that’s just me.
It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s versatile, and it’s delicious. It’s what’s for dinner today in my kitchen cafe.
What are you serving for dinner today?
DID YOU KNOW: Bell peppers can be “male” or “female”. Female peppers are filled with seeds and are great for eating raw. Use the females for salads. Male peppers have few seeds and are best served in cooked dishes. How to tell one from the other? Male peppers have three “bumps” on the bottom. Female peppers have four.