Allergy Free Chicken Parmesan Casserole with Gluten Free Garlic Croutons

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Versions of this quick n’ easy “Chicken Parm” have been kicking around the internet for years. And trust me, they caught my attention, first for their lower fat content, but second, for their ease. The healthy brilliance of this dish lies in replacing the fatty breading usually associated with Chicken “Parm” with a crouton topping instead.  Voila, no flour, egg, and breadcrumb coating, and no butter and oil to fry the whole shebang.  Just put together white meat chicken, red sauce, basil, croutons, and some cheese, bake it, and you’ve got dinner in an hour.

But we are a gluten and dairy-free household, so existing incarnations of the recipe were still no good for us. I decided to deconstruct this dish for those of us with food allergies and intolerances. The gluten part wasn’t so hard.  I made my own gluten-free croutons, which my kids liked so much, they requested a steady supply for snacking.  Here’s a little secret:  gluten-free bread was born to be made into croutons.

The cheese part? Not so simple. Vegan cheese doesn’t behave like good ol’ dairy. For this casserole to work, I decided I needed thinly sliced Daiya, not shreds, for good coverage and meltability. And Daiya is temperamental. Baked too long, it turns hard and brittle, too short, and it’s goopy. I experimented with varying amounts, and times, and settled on using less cheese than traditional recipes (read: less fat), and to add the cheese and croutons in the second half of cook time, for a melted but still soft cheesy topping, with crunchy croutons in tact. Please note that thinly sliced Daiya mozzarella is available at the deli counter at Whole Foods. Ask them to slice block Daiya thin for you. Or buy the wedges and slice it super thin yourself.

If you like, you could go one step simpler for weeknight prep on this recipe, by using store-bought marinara, but making your own takes all of 17 minutes, and again, let’s you streamline the fat and sodium content for one of the world’s healthiest sauces. The sauce can be made in advance and will keep at least 1 week tightly covered in the refrigerator. The croutons can also be made in advance. Just be sure they’re completely cool before storing at room temperature in an airtight container.

 

Chicken “Parm” Casserole with Gluten-Free Garlic Croutons

Serves 8

 

Gluten-Free Garlic Croutons:

(Makes 3 cups)

6 Tablespoons EVOO

4 medium cloves garlic, pressed, or minced fine (1 Tablespoon)

½ teaspoon Kosher salt

½ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed between your fingers

5 heaping cups gluten-free* white bread, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 8 slices, preferably stale)

 

4 cups Easy Chunky Marinara

2 pounds chicken tenders

Salt and freshly ground pepper

8 ounces thinly sliced Daiya “Mozzarella”

6-8 leaves basil, for garnish

 

1. To make croutons preheat oven to 350°F. Combine EVOO, garlic, salt, and oregano in a small bowl, whisking well to combine.

2. Put bread cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil mixture, tossing gently with a rubber spatula. Use the rubber spatula to scrape out all the oil mixture onto the bread cubes. Once tossed to coat evenly, transfer bread cubes to a baking tray, evenly spaced into a single layer. Bake 20-25 minutes, using a spatula to turn the croutons once halfway through baking, until lightly golden and dry. Note that staler bread will bake more quickly, since it has less moisture to bake out. Transfer croutons from oven to a wire cooling rack, and let cool to room temperature.

3. Meanwhile, make the Easy Chunky Marinara sauce. Set aside.

4. To assemble the casserole, wash and pat the chicken tenders dry.   Sprinkle both sides liberally with salt and pepper.  Spread 1 cup of marinara in the bottom of a 9 x 12-inch baking dish. Transfer the tenders to the baking dish in a single layer.

5. Spoon 2 cups of marinara evenly over chicken, making sure all the tenders are covered with sauce. Bake in center of oven 20 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven, and layer on half the thinly sliced cheese in a single layer.  Top evenly with the croutons. Top croutons with the remaining half of the cheese. Bake 20 minutes more, until the sauce is bubbling up around the edges and the cheese has melted, and the chicken registers 155°F-160°F on a meat thermometer. (Please note that really small tenders might take 5 minutes less, so check them early.)

7. Transfer casserole from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving.  Serve garnished with coarsely torn basil, or cut into a chiffonade. Cut casserole into servings, and transfer to a plate with a spatula. Serve with a little of the remaining marinara sauce on the side.

* For allergy-friendly bread that’s gluten-free and free of the top-8 allergens, see Ener-G.

 

Allergy-Free Chicken “Parm” with Gluten-Free Garlic Croutons © 2012 by Cybele Pascal (This recipe first appeared in the September issue of Easy Eats)

Please note that all my recipes are completely free of all top allergens (wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish, and gluten), so as many people as possible can enjoy them. Additionally, all the ingredients are available at Whole Foods, and online at Amazon.com. If you have trouble finding something, let me know and I’ll help you find it.

SAFETY NOTE: Because each person’s food sensitivity and reaction is unique, ranging from mild intolerance to life-threatening and severe food allergies, it is up to the consumer to monitor ingredients and manufacturing conditions. If manufacturing conditions, potential cross contact between foods, and ingredient derivatives pose a risk for you, please re-read all food labels and call the manufacturer to confirm potential allergen concerns before consumption. Ingredients and manufacturing practices can change overnight and without warning.

 

Small Plates and Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

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Get ready to meet the most beautiful book in the word.  Small Plates & Sweet Treats: My Family’s Journey to Gluten Free Cooking is the prettiest collection of recipes to cross my desk, ever.

As somebody who’s spent the better part of my life reading cookbooks in bed for relaxation, this gorgeous tome is one sweet treat. It’s so pretty, I even found myself cooing over the floral print on the inside of the dust jacket! If you are familiar with Aran’s award-winning blog, Cannelle et Vanille, you will know that her food photography and styling are truly top notch. Her work is sumptuous, real, always telling a story, and making you desperately want to eat whatever it is she’s just prepared. So imagine how breathtaking these images are in book format. Big, glossy, full-paged… Dare I say it? Even better than on the blog, because there’s more immediacy, more clarity, so tangible you want to dive right in.

Call me antiquated, but I still love a book. Food blogs are special for their real time experience, the in-depth process shots, the window into somebody’s life, and the community they can foster. But nothing replaces a COOKBOOK. The pages you pour over and spill food on. However, in full disclosure: I don’t want to spill food on this book. I want to keep Small Plates & Sweet Treats as the stunning coffee table book it is, or could be if I keep it clean. I obviously need two copies: one for breaking in, and the other for perusing.

But let me be clear, Small Plates & Sweet Treats’ beauty is way more than skin deep. First, let me talk about its structure. It is divided into seasonal chapters, a structure I’m particularly fond of. Seasonal chapters simplify life, by letting you flip directly to the seasonally applicable recipes for inspiration. Warming soups for fall, cooling salads for summer, already curated for you. Cooking seasonally is preferable for many reasons, perhaps most importantly because it simplifies shopping by sourcing what is in season, and thus readily available and cheaper. Cheaper, easier to find, and hitting the spot based upon your seasonal moods? What could be better? Interestingly, Aran has started the book with autumn, while most seasonal cookbooks begin with spring. I like that she’s started with autumn, because I always think of the beginning of the year as the beginning of the school year, so this works for me.

Another highlight of Small Plates & Sweet Treats is that it’s comprised of small plates. Derived straight from Aran’s Basque childhood, small plates are a great way to eat. Make one recipe for lunch, or whip up several complimentary dishes for a lively and varied supper. And the best thing about small plates? They leave room for dessert, which believe me, you’ll want to be doing. Aran was previously a professional pastry chef, and has lifted gluten-free baking to new heights.

Best of all, these recipes are simple. While they range in style from innovative (candy-striped beet, fennel & raclette tart with buckwheat crust) to traditional (sunday beef stew) they are all easy to execute, and most of all delicious. I can’t wait to cook and bake my way through this cookbook. At the top of my list are crispy & creamy chicken, mushroom and potato bake (see recipe below), eggplants stuffed with millet & serrano ham, roasted parsnip & apple soup with mustard croutons, autumn panzanella salad (made with Aran’s homemade seeded bread), celery root, sweet potato & quinoa crumble, chocolate sweet potato donuts, and coconut cream cookies (which my son Lennon looked at and said “make that!”). Please note that while all these recipe are gluten-free, they are not specifically free of other common allergens, so pick and choose those that are safe for you. I chose to share the recipe below because it’s easily made top-8-free if you just omit the cheese.

I don’t know about you, but I know what I’ll be getting people for Chrismukkah this year! Thank you, Aran, for this lovely luscious book!

crispy & creamy chicken, mushroom & potato bake

From Small Plates & Sweet Treats by Aran Goyoaga

I WAS ELEVEN THE FIRST TIME I VISITED IRELAND. I spent a summer with the O’Sullivans, who took me in as an exchange student while I attended English classes. Every morning, Una packed my lunch in a brown bag: a chicken sandwich, an apple, and a packet of malt vinegar crisps. It seldom varied. During a lunch break at school I saw a fellow classmate pack his crisps inside his sandwich. I had never seen anything like it! “He might be on to something,” I thought to myself, and he was. This dish is inspired by those fl vors and textures, with a creamy chicken, mushroom, and tarragon filling and a crunchy potato, malt vinegar, and parsley topping.

 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing bowls and frying

4 slices pancetta, chopped

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 pound (450 g) boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite-size pieces

1 1/4  teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 ounces (110 g) cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

¼ cup (60 ml) white wine

1/2 cup (125 ml) unsweetened coconut milk

2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled

1 tablespoon malt vinegar

½ ounce (15 g) Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

 

Directions

1 Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crispy. Add the onion, garlic, and celery and cook for 5 minutes.

2 Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Add it to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, turning once. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tarragon, white wine, coconut milk, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cook for another minute.

3 Brush the inside of 6 (8-ounce) oven-safe bowls with oil. Divide the chicken mixture among the bowls and bake for 20 minutes.

4 Meanwhile, thinly slice the potatoes on a mandoline, or slice them by hand as thin as possible. Pat them dry with a paper towel. In a large sauté pan, heat 1/2 inch of olive oil over medium heat. Fry the potatoes in batches until crispy, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Drain them on paper towels. Drizzle the malt vinegar and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt on top.

5 Remove the bowls from the oven and top with the crispy potatoes and Parmesan cheese. Put the bowls back in the oven for 5 minutes. Top  with the parsley and serve immediately.