Weeknight Meal: Easy Chicken + Eggplant Parmesan

It's been an incredibly taxing week for everyone. I don't really think I need to say much more than that. Emotionally, physically, spiritually everyone is drained. I'm not sure I've ever seen New York City as quiet and still as over the last week. Even the rush-hour subway train cars are just... silent.

In my personal life the last few weeks have been full of incredible highs and lows. I intend to write a post about the week of our wedding as well as some other life shifts which have happened recently. I just need to make sure that I fully process them before sharing, which sometimes takes more time than I intend. For now, back to the usual- busy schedules, weeknight meals, and budget friendly ideas.

The biggest goal of this blog is to share with you bits of my everyday but also how I challenge myself to live in a sustainable way, on a budget of time and money. I want to write about real days and real meals, not imagined and pretty Instagram moments. Last Monday proved to be a perfect example of my intention for this site. Most of the day I spent taking care of errands put off for weeks since the wedding. I knew that I had to be home by 5PM in order to throw together dinner (Ian works late on Mondays so it's my night to cook).  At 7:30PM sharp I had an international Skype call for which I had to be on time. As is always the case when I am in a rush in this city, the transportation system was set against me. Of the three trains I could take home, not one was running. Totally out of service! I took the bus, which is always much more time consuming. Even with running from the stop back to the apartment I still got home at 6:15PM. I calculated a meager hour and change to cook and take out the dogs before jumping on my call.

I'm not going to lie, I strongly considered spending $20 and ordering Thai food or pizza. It would've been the easy thing to do. But, I recently made a promise to myself that I wouldn't let food in the fridge go to waste and I would actually start trimming the fat on unnecessary expenses. (A decision I made after ordering three pairs of boots on a major sale last week. Oops.) Monday night felt like the perfect opportunity to challenge myself to make something quick and delicious, without buying anything new, with only ingredients already in my home. Sustainable and budget friendly.

In my fridge I found an eggplant, fresh basil, leftover roasted chicken, and tons of grated cheese. I always have lasagna noodles and breadcrumbs on hand so I threw together a dish I've made before when in a serious time crunch. It's not quite a lasagna and not quite an eggplant Parmesan but honestly, does it really matter when you have an hour, two dogs that need walking, a starving husband on his way home, and a phone interview?! The answer is no, it doesn't. What matters is that now it's Wednesday and we've been eating this Easy Chicken + Eggplant Parm all week, it's seriously delicious, and I would put money on making it again when in a total pinch for time.

The best part about this recipe, as with many of my dishes, is that you can improvise beyond what's in the ingredients. If you want more of a lasagna, add carrots, onions, more tomato sauce. If you want to leave out the lasagna noodles and only layer the eggplant, do it. Or make the dish vegetarian and leave out the chicken, your choice. The idea is to cook quickly, effectively, and with items you already have in your fridge.

 Golden, crunchy, cheesy crust. What more do you need for a weeknight meal on a cold and grey november day?

Golden, crunchy, cheesy crust. What more do you need for a weeknight meal on a cold and grey november day?

Easy Chicken + Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients

 Ricotta Mixture: 3 eggs, 2 cups ricotta, basil, Mustard seed, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic

Ricotta Mixture: 3 eggs, 2 cups ricotta, basil, Mustard seed, oregano, salt, pepper, garlic

  • 3 roasted, shredded chicken breasts (omit if you're making this vegetarian)
  • 1 large eggplant, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 package lasagna noodles
  • 1.5 cups breadcrumbs
  • 1 jar tomato sauce
  • 2 cups ricotta or cottage cheese
  • grated Parmesan
  • sliced cheese like mozzarella or provolone, any Italian cheese you have on hand will work
  • 3 eggs
  • dried parsley
  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • mustard seed
  • handful fresh basil
  • olive oil
  • salt + pepper
  1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Boil water in a large pot and completely submerge lasagna noodles for about 8 minutes. If you really want to save time use no-boil noodles. (Follow the instructions on the box.)
  3. While lasagna noodles are boiling, dice eggplant and onion.
  4. Brown diced eggplant and onion with s+p and a dash of all spices listed above. Use your judgement, the eggplant and onions should become fragrant and soft. When they're soft, mix the breadcrumbs right into your skillet and brown for a few minutes more.
  5. Remove noodles and place them on a lightly greased cookie sheet, making sure to coat each noodle in some oil. This will prevent them from sticking and becoming a total pain to handle when assembling the dish. No need to use olive oil! Save some money and use vegetable oil or cooking spray for this step.
  6. Prepare your cheese mixture. In a bowl mix 3 eggs, 2 cups of ricotta or cottage cheese, 1 tbsp of basil, oregano, parsley, mustard seed, and minced garlic.
  7. Layer your dish in the following order: lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, chicken, sauce, grated cheese. Reserve some eggplant/onions for the end. Repeat until you have a final layer of noodles. Top noodles with any leftover vegetables and sliced cheese on top. I liked sliced cheese to finish because it makes for an even, golden crust.
  8. Bake on the top rack for 30 minutes at 350°F and broil for an additional 5 to get a golden crust on the cheese.
  9. Serve with a green salad and a handful of fresh basil on top.