January 15, 2014 — As Jesuit Father Chuck Frederico knows well, comfort food is a necessity in winter when temperatures drop and families gather together for hearty meals. That’s why this chef-turned-Jesuit is sharing his favorite comfort food recipe for chicken parmigiano — one of his mom’s best recipes (see below).
Raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Fr. Frederico grew up with a long-standing tradition of cooking Italian food in a bustling kitchen with his mom for large family dinners on Sundays. This translated into stints as a waiter, busboy, sous chef, maître d’ and one job working behind the counter at a Jewish deli. He would eventually attend the Culinary Institute of America (which was formerly a Jesuit novitiate) to become a chef.
As it turns out, God had other plans for Fr. Frederico, who was ordained a priest in the Society of Jesus in 2006 and currently serves as vocations director for the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces. However, his love for food and for gathering people around the table hasn’t changed since becoming a Jesuit. These days, he brings his fellow Jesuits together by cooking for his community on the weekends.
“It’s been a major gift to my Jesuit life,” he says. “It boosts community. I’ll put a note up on Saturday and say I’ll cook, and 15 guys will show up. I put Sinatra on in the kitchen and go to town.”
Since joining the priesthood, inviting people to the table has taken on a deeper meaning for Fr. Frederico, who connects his culinary background with his current vocation by drawing parallels between bringing people around the table for food and celebrating Mass for a congregation. As a vocations director, he finds sitting at a table discussing his experiences with those interested in the priesthood is an excellent way to evangelize.
“The notion of being at a table is very significant to me, inviting people to break bread,” he says. “My chef background has deepened my understanding of the priesthood because of that.”
For the complete story about Fr. Frederico, visit Arts and Faith, an ongoing series from Loyola Press.
Fr. Frederico’s favorite meal to cook is chicken parmesan. It’s one of his mom’s best recipes. “With a good piece of pound cake, maybe a Chianti, Caesar salad, I’m in love. That, to me, is like Heaven.”
Step one: tomato sauce (sufficient for chicken and pasta)
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can (28 ounces) whole plum peeled
1can (12 ounces) tomato paste
1/2 bunch fresh Italian parsley
1/2 bunch fresh basil
5 cloves garlic (chopped finely)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. Kosher salt
1 tbsp. fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. fennel seed
Open the cans at the same time and get rid of the lids.
Chop the parsley finely.
Slice the basil leaves lined up top to bottom (equally) in thin slices at an angle. This creates a nice chiffonade.
Clean and chop the garlic cloves.
Pour 1/4 cup (enough to coat the bottom of the pot) extra virgin olive oil into a good sturdy pot. (heat)
Add the garlic, salt, crushed black pepper, crushed red pepper, and fennel seed.
Sauté lightly (do not brown the garlic).
Add the tomato paste into the pot and soak up all the ingredients.
Sauté for a minute to darken the paste.
Add in the crushed tomato and simmer on medium heat.
In the meantime hand-crush the peeled tomatoes in a bowl and then add them into the pot.
Simmer on medium heat for two hours stirring every 15 minutes (You may need to add a 1/2 cup of warm water to thin slightly).
Add in the parsley and the basil in the final 1/2 hour.
Step two: chicken
Wash the four chicken breasts.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Pound the chicken breasts to a 1/4 inch thickness. (put in between a sheet a plastic wrap)
Assemble three equal size bowls; one for flour, one for three eggs whisked with a touch of milk, and one with Italian style bread crumbs.
Add 1/4 cup of finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese into the bread crumbs.
Addatablespoon of ground black pepper andatablespoon of Kosher salt into the flour.
Add a teaspoon of garlic powder into the flour.
First dip the breast in the flour, then the egg wash, and then the bread crumb mix consecutively.
Place on a wet paper towel until all the chicken breasts are completely coated.
Heat olive oil on the stove 1/2 inch thick in the pan.
Place the smooth side down and fry the breasts two at a time.
Flip the chicken breast and fry another four minutes.
Remove and place in a Pyrex dish in the oven at 300 degrees.
When completely finished frying cover the 9 by 11 Pyrex dish with foil.
Bake for eight minutes and then reduce oven to 200 degrees.
Open the foil on the Pyrex dish and add a small ladle of sauce onto each chicken breast.
Sprinkle each chicken breast with parmigiano cheese.
Sprinkle 8 ounces chopped fresh of mozzarella assuring that each chicken breast gets covered.
Bake in the oven for two minutes to melt the cheese.
Sprinkle with fresh finely chopped parsley.
Coat each plate with a ladle of tomato sauce covering the bottom of the plate.
Place the chicken breast on the sauce.
Serve with a side of fresh spaghetti (assume 5 servings per pound of spaghetti) boiled in salted water.
*NB—Garlic bread makes a nice addition.