You know that one recipe you can make with your eyes closed because you’ve made it so many times before? The dish that always gets rave reviews? Well this one’s mine. There’s nothing fancy about it—most of the preparation can actually be completed ahead of time—but it’s really appealing visually, and absolutely delicious. The tried and true combination of crispy, golden brown chicken cutlets, ripe cherry tomatoes, and peppery arugula also takes a mere 45 minutes to prepare, from start to finish.
This dish actually evolved after I lived in Milan, Italy. At that time, my favorite dish to order was Cotoletta alla Milanese, which is a slice of bone-in veal loin that’s pounded thin, breaded, and fried in butter. It is a typical dish found across the region of Lombardy that’s most likely derived from Wiener Schnitzel. During warmer months, many restaurants also top this dish with a tasty tomato salad; I found the combination of a crispy, tender chop and juicy tomatoes intoxicating. When I returned to North America, I did my best to try to replicate it, but it was virtually impossible to find bone-in veal chops anywhere, and it just didn’t work well with veal scallopini. I ultimately decided to try using boneless, breaded chicken breasts topped with tomatoes and arugula, and I’ve been making it the same way ever since.
What makes this dish extra special is the homemade mixture of breadcrumbs seasoned with Pecorino cheese, lemon zest, chili pepper, parsley, salt, and pepper. I’ve been making my own breadcrumbs for years, and it really is a great way to use up day old bread. When I have slightly stale bread on hand, I simply cut it into cubes and store it in bags in the freezer. When I need breadcrumbs, I throw some of the frozen bread cubes in my food processor and pulse until finely chopped. You do want a little texture, but you also want crumbs ground small enough to use as breading. Once my crumbs are the right size, I throw in my preferred seasonings, and pulse until everything is mixed.
I know it may sound redundant that I keep preaching fresh, seasonal ingredients, but this is truly what makes Italian food so good. The tomatoes used in this recipe should be very fresh and sweet, the arugula crisp and peppery. I dress the tomato mixture with a little minced garlic, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, and then serve the dish with additional lemon wedges—the additional citrus really helps the flavors pop.
Deborah Mele 2013
- 4 Cups Stale Bread Cubes
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Grated Zest and 1 Teaspoon Juice From 1 Lemon
- 1/2 to 1 Teaspoon Chopped Hot Red Chile Pepper (Optional)
- 1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley Leaves
- 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1/3 Cup Pine Nuts
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Cup All-purpose Flour
- 2 Large Eggs
- 8 Chicken Cutlets, About 1 1/2 to 2 Pounds Total Weight, Pounded to 1/2-inch Thickness (See Note)
- 4 Cups Ripe Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
- 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced (About 2 Teaspoons)
- 7 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
- 4 Tablespoons Butter
- 4 Cups Washed and Dried Fresh Arugula
- Lemon Wedges to Serve
- For the cutlets, place the bread cubes, lemon zest, chile pepper, parsley, grated cheese, salt and pepper in the food processor, and pulse until finely blended.
- Add the pine nuts and pulse just until the nuts are coarsely chopped and dump mixture into a shallow bowl.
- Place the flour in a plastic bag and season with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs in a separate shallow bowl. Working 1 cutlet at a time, dredge in the flour, then dip into the eggs, and finally the breadcrumbs pressing down with your fingertips to help the crumbs adhere.
- Place the breaded cutlets on a baking sheet, and refrigerate the for 1 hour to allow the crumb coating to set.
- Meanwhile, place the tomatoes, garlic, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and lemon juice in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss to mix well, then set aside until needed.
- Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 400° F. While the oven preheats, set cutlet tray at room temperature. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil, and divide the butter and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil between each. Place the trays into the oven until the butter is melted, about 5 minutes.
- Divide the chicken cutlets between the two trays and bake until golden brown on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Turn the cutlets over, return to the oven and cook until golden brown on second side, 10 to 12 minutes longer.
- Place the chicken onto a platter and arrange the arugula on top. Spoon the tomato mixture over the arugula and serve immediately along with the lemon wedges.