“What are we having for lunch this week?” – John
“You’ll see.” – Me
“Okay… why can’t I know now?” – John
“If I tell you, you might not want to eat it.” – Me
Probably not the best way to get someone excited about a new dish, but I was worried he’d hear the words “baked” and “quinoa” and think I was trying to prohibit him from something tasty.
I’ve talked about my appreciation for quinoa in the past: it’s filling, packed with nutrients, and can easily replace pasta or rice in most recipes (so no excuses for having never tried it) If only it had good looks, it’d be the whole package.
Fortunately, anything covered in cheese begins to look better. Am I right?
The recipe I was working off of suggested poaching the chicken in water. Not really my style; I find poaching in water leads to a seriously lack of flavor. I’d rather roast a chicken breast on the bone with the skin on and go through the extra steps of removing and shredding the meat to achieve a tastier piece of meat.
Preheat an oven to 425 F. Place the chicken in a baking dish and season with olive oil, salt, and fresh pepper. Bake for 20-25 minutes (depending on the thickness of the chicken breast), then remove and let cool slightly. Discard the skin, then shred or cut chicken into small pieces.
Meanwhile, lower the oven to 375 F. Heat a large pot over medium heat, then add olive oil. Cook the onion for 5-7 minutes, then add garlic and heat through until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.
Pour in balsamic vinegar, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, and pepper. Scrape all the yummy bits off the bottom of the pan. Bring to a low boil, then simmer.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, shredded chicken, and sauce. Place half of the mixture in a greased baking dish, then top with half the mozzarella cheese.
Repeat with remaining ingredients.
Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil, then continue to bake until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly, about 10 minutes more.
Not gonna lie, this was a pleasant surprise (and hubby agreed!). Sure, the abundant cheese probably had something to do with our overall enjoyment of the dish, but we agreed that the flavors alone were better than expected.
In the future, I’d make a few changes:
(1) I think this dish needs something green. It’s already packed with nutrients, but next time I’d add some fresh or sautéed baby spinach to the whole thing.
(2) I’d also like a stronger basil flavor. Easily solved by adding fresh basil to each piece before serving. Done and done.
(3) While the sauce was fine as is, I’d try to develop a deeper flavor (the quinoa and chicken absorb the flavors of the sauce, so if you want to spice things up a bit, you’ve gotta season the sauce differently). Perhaps adding red wine or homemade chicken stock would help.
Either way, this made a simple, affordable, and nutritious lunch that we felt good eating. (Especially important since I’m planning to eat an entire gallon of ice cream by myself between tomorrow and Thursday; temps are supposed to jump to the upper 90′s.)
Baked Quinoa and Chicken Parmesan
*Recipe adapted slightly from Prevention RD.
Yields: 8 servings
Time: 5 min prep, 1 hr cooking
- 1 lb bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
- 1 (15 oz) can no salt added diced tomatoes
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- Fresh basil (about 1/4 cup leaves)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 cup quinoa, uncooked (about 2 cups cooked)
- 1 cup (4 oz) fresh mozzarella cheese
- 1 oz parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino romano cheese
- 2 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
- For the chicken: Preheat an oven to 425 F. Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish and season with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook for 20-25 minutes (depending on the thickness of the chicken), or until fully cooked through. Let cool, then remove skin and discard. Shred or chop chicken and set aside.
- For the sauce: Lower the oven to 375 F. Spray a large baking dish with olive oil spray. Heat a large skillet or pot over medium heat, then add 1 tbsp olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cool until fragrant, 30-60 seconds.
- Pour in the balsamic vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan to release any brown bits. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, red pepper flakes, basil, oregano, and pepper to taste. Bring to a low boil, then simmer.
- Cook quinoa according to box directions then set aside in a large bowl. Add the shredded chicken and tomato sauce mixture, then stir to combine.
- Place half the mixture in the baking dish and top with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining quinoa mixture and mozzarella, then sprinkle with parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino cheese and panko breadcrumbs.
- Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly, about 10 minutes more.
*Note: Next time, I would add fresh or sautéed spinach, or some other vegetable, to add some much-needed color to the dish. And perhaps some red wine to the sauce? Play around wit it.